an office prank ended in injury, boss won’t stop talking about my pregnancy plans, and more

It’s five answers to five questions. Here we go…

1. An office prank ended in injury

I would like your opinion on this workplace prank gone bad. I work with two gentleman who work on the same team in a large call center, Fergus and Niles. They are friends and in their 20s. This team is not an entry-level team; both employees have been promoted to be on this team, and they have both worked for the company for over two years.

Yesterday afternoon, as a prank, Fergus placed a pair of scissors on Niles’ chair, apparently assuming Niles would see them before sitting. He did not. Niles was injured and taken to an urgent care for a puncture wound. Niles’ injuries were minor, but it was a bit embarrassing for him as everyone in the call center was able to see this happen. Due to the blood, his chair had to be replaced as well.

Niles stated that he did not want to get anyone in trouble, and he was not angry about what had occurred. Fergus stated he did not mean to injure Niles and it was just a bad prank.

Fergus was ultimately written up for the situation, but that was the end of it. As a manger, would you have fired Fergus for this? Or would you have looked at any other factors in making this decision?

No, I wouldn’t have fired Fergus. Firing shouldn’t be a punishment; it should be a natural consequence when you decide that it no longer makes sense to keep an employee in the job. If Fergus had acted with malicious intent toward Niles, then yes, firing would be appropriate. But they’re friends, he intended it as a prank, and he didn’t mean to injure him. An appropriate consequence for this action would be to make sure Fergus understands that there’s now a zero-tolerance policy for him when it comes to pranks in the workplace now, and that there would be far more serious consequences if he violates that ban, regardless of his intent and even if the next prank doesn’t end badly. And if Niles has medical bills, Fergus should offer to pay them. But he’s an otherwise good employee without a track record of bad judgment previously, firing would be overkill.

2. My boss won’t stop talking about my pregnancy plans

I have been at my current job for seven years, working under the same supervisor for approximately 3.5 years. My partner and I have been trying to get pregnant for a few months, and we were excited to have a positive pregnancy test last week. A few weeks ago (before I knew I was pregnant), my boss told me she thought I was pregnant when I had a migraine at work, and then expected me to confirm or deny her assumption. I also learned last week that my boss has been fishing for information about my pregnancy status from my teammates.

I know my boss is an anxious type who wants information well in advance so that she can manage our program accordingly — but I feel strongly that it is inappropriate to ask a supervisee directly if they are pregnant, and extremely inappropriate to ask coworkers to share information about their teammate who may/may not be pregnant. I have assured my boss that I will talk to her when I have any information to share; however, each time it comes up, I am taken by surprise and have not asked her directly to not ask me those questions. Honestly, I feel like I should not have to ask my boss to not inquire about my pregnancy status every few weeks. What do you advise? Should I go to HR? I feel uncomfortable bringing this up with my boss, especially now that I know I am in my first few weeks of pregnancy. I am afraid that somehow I will end up letting on that I am pregnant in spite of my intentions to keep this information private until my partner and I are ready to share.

For some background, over the last 2-3 years, I have casually mentioned that my partner and I would like to start a family someday. Mostly, this has been through vague statements such as, “any kids we have will be out of high school before the new subway line reaches our neighborhood!” We have a fairly open team culture where this type of conversation is normal. About a year ago, I mentioned that my partner and I had gone to a conception workshop for LGBT families because it was relevant to the conversation. Every time the topic of me having kids comes up, my boss starts fishing for information about our specific plans/timelines. I always deflect and avoid answering. My job also involves travel to Zika-endemic areas, and my boss has asked me “are you worried about Zika and pregnancy?” during a work trip. In a moment of private venting to a teammate a few months ago, I mentioned my anxiety about negotiating future work travel with my boss because of Zika and pregnancy. A couple months ago, I had a child’s car seat in my office that belonged to my officemate. My boss immediately saw it and said, “do you have something to tell me?” Then last week a teammate told me that our boss had asked her whether she knew if I was pregnant and mentioned that my boss says things like, “well, we don’t know — she could be pregnant right now!” in reference to me when I am not in the room. I feel like I am being watched like a hawk at work, and now that I know I am indeed pregnant, it is stressful. How do I navigate this in my workplace?

She’s being out of line and inappropriate, but you’re also missing opportunity after opportunity to say something to her directly. The next time this happens, address it forthrightly: “Jane, I don’t know if you realize how often you ask whether I’m pregnant or what my plans for pregnancy might be. I’m sure you can understand how awkward that is for me. If I have something to tell you and I’m ready to tell you it, I will. But I’d be really grateful if you wouldn’t keep inquiring — to me or to others about me.” (Another option would be to say, “You’ve asked a lot about what my plans for pregnancy might be. What’s going on?” … and then have some version of the conversation above.)

If she continues after that, then yeah, you could talk to HR. But the first step here is to ask her directly to stop.

And if you’re thinking that it will be awkward to say this and then tell her a couple of months later that you’re pregnant, you don’t need to worry about that. You’re not telling her that you’re not pregnant; you’re telling her to stop talking about it and that when you have something to tell her, you will — which is true.

3. Should I connect with total strangers on LinkedIn?

I work in an industry that’s largely freelance, and there’s a massive component of networking and word-of-mouth. But then at the same time, almost all of that networking is done person to person. As far as I know, I’ve never gotten a job or a useful contact out of LinkedIn because it’s just not really the way we work. Additionally, there are several industry-specific networking websites that are similar to LinkedIn but just for this specific industry and I have pages on those as well.

On the industry-specific sites, I’ll accept almost any connection because it gives me a list of people by skill set with easy access to links to their work and experience. For years I’ve treated LinkedIn the same, but for some reason it’s starting to rankle me how many people in my industry who I’ve never met and know nothing about keep reaching out to connect on LinkedIn. I can’t recommend these people, I’ve never seen their work and never met them. If I wanted to hire somebody, I wouldn’t look there. If I was approached for an introduction, I would feel uncomfortable providing it because they’re strangers. So part of me wants to just go through and purge every single person that I’ve not met and personally worked with, because otherwise LinkedIn feels so useless.

Is there a hidden benefit to keeping these random “we’re in the same industry and maybe have a single contact in common” type of people? Do employers possibly ever judge you by the number of your connections? And going forward, should I start automatically rejecting these types of people?

Different people use LinkedIn differently. Some people will connect to anyone or almost anyone who sends a connection request, even if they’re complete strangers. Some people will only connect to people they know personally. Some people are somewhere in the middle. You can use it however you want. It’s not rude to decide to ignore connection requests from strangers; lots of people do. You can also clean up your contacts and pare it down to just people you actually know.

As for the benefits to keeping random strangers in your connection list … the argument is that it expands your network. I’d argue that it doesn’t expand your network in a meaningful way, but it’s true that if, for example, you’re ever looking for someone who worked at at particular company and can give you the inside scoop, you’d have a much larger universe of people to choose from.

4. Explaining religious Plain Dress in a job interview

I have a question about interviews and my unusual clothing. I’m a member of a church that practices Plain Dress (think Amish or Old Order Mennonites). However, I’m interviewing for jobs where my clothing stands out. Most people have only seen Plain Dress during the obligatory Amish episode of their favorite TV series, and have a lot of wildly inaccurate ideas regarding people who dress like me.

Because of my beliefs, I won’t be showing up in traditional interview clothing, but my clothing is still businesslike. I’m worried that some will think I’m just dressed down. I also wear a hat, which I don’t remove. Do you have any suggestions for diffusing the situation without coming across as a “religious nutter”?

I’m actually not so concerned about you needing to explain your clothing, which still reads as fairly conservative. It’s the hat that I think you might need to explain, since it will stay on during the interview. For that, I think you could simply say, “I leave my hat on for religious reasons,” and that should be enough. Even if people aren’t familiar with Plain Dress in particular, they’re probably familiar with the idea of religious head coverings, and I think you should be fine from there.

And I don’t think you have to worry about the “religious nutter” thing. People will usually take their cues from you, and if you’re low-key and matter-of-fact about it, it shouldn’t be a big deal.

Read an update to this letter here.

5. Finding out if I’m a serious candidate before traveling to an interview

I’m trying to break into a field that is not very present in my local area and is not easy to get into. This means I end up applying to locations that are rather far away. Several times now, I’ve had interviews that require me to make transportation arrangements, set aside at least a whole day, and budget out some travel costs. I don’t mind doing this if I’m being seriously considered for the position, but in one scenario I’ve had an HR rep outright tell me I was just being used to fill an interview quota (sadly this was during said interview so I was already there) and I have my suspicions about a couple other places doing the same.

I can’t really be picky as, like I said, it’s hard to break into the field and I should take whatever chances I can get, but it’s a waste of my time and money if I’m not a serious contender. Is there a professional way I can tell them that I don’t want to travel unless I’m being seriously considered for the job without hurting my chances at said job? Keeping in mind that these companies are aware I am not local.

Ugh, that’s really crappy. They shouldn’t let you pay to get yourself there if they don’t consider you a serious candidate.

There’s no 100% foolproof way to screen for this, but it’s reasonable to say something like, “I’m very interested in this job and understand the need to get myself to City to interview if we’re to go further. However, given the expense and time commitment of doing that, are you able to give me an idea of how strong a candidate you think I am?” If the person you’re talking to has any conscience, she’ll let you know if there’s a leading internal candidate or something like that.

{ 610 comments… read them below }

  1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

    OP#2, I know you’re not feeling comfortable speaking with your boss, but you have to say something to her before you escalate it to HR. What she’s doing is way out of line and inappropriate, but I think she’s more likely to get why what she’s doing is wrong if you make her articulate why she’s behaving this way (and then following it up with kind but authoritative language making it clear that this is not up for discussion). It’s an awful situation, though, and I’m sorry you’re having to deal with this.

    1. KR*

      What a kindly worded response. It’s true, OP, you have to say something. You’ll feel better once you say it. Could you also ask the co-workers who she’s asking for information on you to not share things about you that aren’t work related?

    2. snuck*

      What a lovely answer.

      I’m the kind of person who’d eyeball her straight one day and say “I’m sorry?!! Did you just reference me being pregnant AGAIN? Hrm. Let’s just never talk about it again until we really need to ok?”

      But… my field is very male dominated and pregnancy talk is dangerously close to PMT insinuations.

      1. Bend & Snap*

        Early in my career I worked at a company where the owner would walk around going, “Okay ladies, don’t get pregnant!”

        That was super fun for the women who got pregnant and then had to fess up.

        1. Jadelyn*

          My mom told me about a meeting with the old owner of her company, where he explicitly told managers not to hire young women because they would get pregnant and leave within a couple years anyway. Their sole HR person was in the room at the time and her response was just to get up and walk out so she “didn’t hear it” and didn’t have to do anything about it.

      2. TheBeetsMotel*

        My boss, on more than one occasion, has likened managing to having children. “You’re not a parent yet, but when you are, you’ll realise managing is a lot like X Parenting Scenario”.

        Ugh, on so many levels.

    3. Juniper Green*

      Agreed – and Alison’s point about you being currently pregnant not really mattering in your response is a good one. You would need to set this boundary with your boss regardless, so hopefully one very direct conversation addressing the incessant questioning head on will put an end to it. Congrats to you and your partner!

  2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

    OP#3, I don’t know any employer who looks at the number of your LinkedIn connections, let alone judges you for how many/few connections you have, when hiring. I honestly don’t think there’s anything to be gained by saying “yes” to random people trying to link up with you on LinkedIn, but as Alison noted, the ultimate decision on how to use your account is up to you. I don’t tend to accept requests from people I don’t know, mostly because of my feelings re: online privacy and stalkers, but I realize that that’s not the same for most other people.

    The one caveat to the “number of connections” issue is for certain roles—e.g., social media maven, or PR. I’ve seen employers who hire folks for those positions (or in those industries) look at someone’s online presence, but usually that’s in the context of social media accounts like Twitter, Instagram, or SnapChat. I’ve yet to meet a social media or communications person whose influence is measured through their LinkedIn account.

    1. Antilles*

      Agreed. I’ve never understood the benefit of saying “Yes” to everyone on LinkedIn. It’s one thing if there’s some kind of actual connection, even if it’s not super strong – after all, it’s often the looser ties that help you career-wise. But if they’re completely random, it’s not like you can really take advantage of the fact you’re “LinkedIn Connected”. Bobby wants my help? Uh, no dude, I’m not recommending you, we’ve never met.
      Also, FWIW, even in social media/PR/etc where your online presence *does* matter, it’s usually not really about the raw number of connections per se. It’s more about how active and savvy you are in actually using it and producing interesting/desirable content. A larger number of followers is often related to this (which is why people look at this), but it’s more of a general indicator than a pure “1,500 > 1,400 > 900” comparison.

    2. Bwmn*

      While I don’t think that there’s any serious judgement happening around the number of LinkedIn connections people have – I think it’s also pretty common for people who start on LinkedIn to cast a wide if tenuous net. Like lots of people, I didn’t really pay attention to LinkedIn until I was in the midst of job hunting and in addition to digging back to connect with everyone and anyone I could remember having worked with over the past 3 years. While there may not be a huge difference in how employers look at connections – I definitely had a number in my head around what looked “too low”.

      So while this is going to vary from job to job, hiring manager to hiring manager, and style to style – if you are reaching out to strangers, I would just say that it’s definitely not uncommon. Not everyone will necessarily add you back or be willing to engage with you any further, but it’s not outside the realm of what is done and I do think that there is some sympathy out there for why people do it.

    3. Red 5*

      OP here, thank you for that perspective. Like a lot of freelancers, I also have a day job that happens to be in social media/marketing and that’s a really good point. I know that in general the numbers that I’m judged by in that role are less raw numbers but more engagement metrics. It’s not the number of followers I gain, it’s how “good” they are. For some reason I hadn’t made the connection that this could be a useful way to look at LinkedIn too, that quality and engagement counts for a lot.

    4. Lady By The Lake*

      I will accept an invitation from someone I don’t know in my field if they are connected to someone I DO know. It can come in handy if I need to connect with someone at Continental Teapots but I don’t know anyone personally. I check my Linked In connections, and if they had reached out to me initially I don’t feel bad reaching out to them because at that point it isn’t completely out of the blue. I would never be providing referrals etc regarding such people — Linked In is for me to have connections I can reach out to. Also, I am an attorney in an area that is a small world — I am happy to allow people who might hire me link to me.

    5. Today I'm Anon*

      I recently had a situation where accepting unknown connections bit me. We had someone send in a resume for an open position. I noticed that his resume listed Important Job, followed by Very Important Job, followed by something the equivalent of pizza delivery boy. I knew someone from the very important company, so I asked her what had happened. Turns out he had done something mildly illegal that is a huge no-no in our industry.

      So, I went to explain to my boss what was going on. He mentioned that the name seemed very familiar and eventually came to the conclusion that he recognized it as someone LinkedIn told him was a connection of one of his connections. I laughed hysterically and then…realization set in. *I* was the shared connection. He must have added me after he left Very Important Job but before he started delivering pizzas. My boss was very amused and I cleared out my connections that night.

    6. Not Rebee*

      There is actually a reason that does make accepting as many connections as you can useful to using LinkedIn to network – however this only works to a certain point. Because the search algorithm favors those who are in your network, when people are looking for what you have to offer the results of their searches are displayed with 1st level connections first, then 2nd level connections and so on. If you are job searching, you would want to come up first on the search – arguably, if someone is legitimately within your network and not a random connection, you would already be tapping each other for jobs and opportunities?

    7. Elizabeth West*

      Good, because I don’t accept connections with people I don’t know. Though I do wish they’d stop endorsing me for stuff-those are worthless, especially if they’re coming from my SISTER.

      1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

        Oh, I am so sympathetic Elizabeth West. My family/friends keep trying to endorse me for skills I don’t have (and that I’m technically not allowed to list/endorse under my state’s legal ethics rules), and I cannot get them to stop. Super well-intentioned but also somewhat annoying.

  3. Panda Bandit*

    #2 – If having a migraine at work indicates pregnancy then I have been pregnant for years! Your boss is being completely ridiculous.

    1. Ugh*

      Yes. Although when I first started getting them, my boss asked me straight out if it was morning sickness (I was recently engaged, so I guess that factored in?). I had to assure her that no, I was not pregnant and it was virtually impossible for me to be so (yay for IUDs). Oddly, that is far down on the list of inappropriate gendered stuff my boss has said. It is only reading this blog that has made me realize how messed up my worksite is.

    2. Rebecca in Dallas*

      Oh, I had a coworker speculate that I was pregnant when I went home with a migraine one day. (I had mentioned I was really sick at my stomach as part of the migraine when I said I was going home.) As soon as I found out what she’d said, I shut that down fast.

      1. Sarah*

        It’s true, people never feel sick to their stomach unless they are pregnant! That’s why they make Pepto pink — because it’s only women who need it!

    3. Jadelyn*

      My god, I’ve had two pregnancies so far this year already! When will this madness end??

    4. seejay*

      My mom heard from several people that being pregnant *reduced* their migraines and used that as a reason why I should start making grandbabies for her (when I had vocalized multiple times that I wasn’t ever having kids).

      The level of stinkeye I gave her as to why “getting pregnant and having kids is not a migraine cure” was beyond the pale.

        1. seejay*

          Yeah I asked her what the “cure” would be for the next 18 years of annoyance and dependency*.

          That argument went over like a lead balloon.

          (*I know many don’t see children as annoyances but when you’ve made your stance pretty clear on “not having children ever”, that’s neither here nor there and you’ll say anything to shut someone up.)

          1. Pebbles*

            Once long ago, my parents were badgering me about being “their best hope for grandkids” (no pressure on me right? And I have two brothers btw). I wasn’t seeing anyone then and was SO fed up that I finally replied that I could have one ready for them in 9-10 months if they weren’t picky about formalities. That shut them up for awhile!

            Honestly, I have had a reincarnation of this fight several times over the last 15+ years, where they will badger badger badger, I finally snap, and have to invent a new way to get them to stop badgering for a year or two before it starts up again, I completely understand your frustration!

            1. seejay*

              My mom finally told me she accepted my decision when I was in my late 30s after a bad breakup with someone that I had said I’d have kids with (after much fighting and cajoling and against my better judgement, and fortunately I wound up not doing). Then I had a huge medical problem that almost killed me and I made a decision to get a partial hysterectomy… cause why not? I didn’t need the equipment, right?

              Mom *freaked out*.
              “You know that’s permanent right???” (Um… I didn’t make it to 36 and not realize that, no???)
              “What does A think about this???” (He doesn’t want kids, and we just started dating two months ago. If he doesn’t like it, he can GTFO cause he doesn’t get a say since it’s my decision, not his.)
              “What if he changes his mind about wanting kids?” (He’s 36, I think he knows what he wants, and again, see above response.)

              And then it fell back into the whole what happened to her accepting this in the first place a few years earlier? Parents are good at accepting something until you tell them you’re going to make really permanent!

              So that’s always an option if you want to get them off your back. She’s never asked about grandkids since I had the surgery done! “Oh, you want grandkids? Kind of medically impossible now!”

              1. Pebbles*

                Wow! Yeah, anyone you just started dating doesn’t have standing on that kind of decision. Like you say, if he doesn’t like it he can leave. And I do have a similar mother who thinks I don’t understand how a woman’s body works. I was an A student all through school, including Biology and Health classes, I’m well aware of my ticking clock thank you very much. I’m glad that you were able to resolve it (FINALLY!). Here’s hoping your relationship with your mom is good now!

                That’s not the way I would go though, because for me it hasn’t been a hard “I don’t want kids ever”. Most of my adult life I’ve either been of the “I don’t have someone in my life I want to have kids with” (literally, no boyfriend at the time and she’s talking about needing grandkids. Um, I’d like to find a guy I would want to spend the rest of my life with before I get knocked up thanks.) Or it’s been “I’m not sure if I want kids or not, but I am sure that I don’t want kids right now”. Really, there is nothing worse you can do to a child IMO than to have them out of some sort of “obligation”. Kids aren’t stupid and will pick up on the fact that you didn’t really want them. (I do believe my parents wanted me, this isn’t from experience just personal feeling.)

                I’ve now been married for almost 5 years and husband and I are at the point where we’d like to try to have kids, but we are okay if it doesn’t happen for us. We would like to BE parents, we just don’t NEED to be parents if that makes sense. However I’m nearing 40 and the last few blow ups with my parents have been around just how OLD I am and “don’t you know your clock is ticking?” So with that and because of my past history with my parents, my husband and I will never tell them that we are trying and they will only find out if/when we actually do succeed.

                (And I realize we are now way OT for the OP…apologies.)

              2. Serin*

                “I don’t need to have kids. If I want someone to wheedle and badger till they get what they want, I have you.”

      1. dragonzflame*

        Didn’t work for me. But then mine are triggered by exhaustion, and in the first trimester that’s unavoidable.

  4. Shelly*

    #4 I used to work in a place where there was a high population of folks who wore Plain Dress. Though I never interviewed anyone wearing it, it was a familiar enough sight that I doubt people would be surprised. In a place where it is less common, I think mentioning that hat thing would be enough. Once you say you’re keeping your hat on for religious reasons, people should figure you’re probably dressed how you are for the same. Good luck in your job search.

    1. Feathers McGraw*

      Yes, good luck! I wonder if it would help to just breezily change the subject after you mention the hat, e.g. “Anyway, it’s great to meet you,” or whatever feels right in the moment.

      Also, I think it’s perhaps easier to make assumptions that someone is a ‘religious nutter’ if someone hasn’t actually spoken to that person. When that person is there, in person, talking person to person, it’s harder to do as people often naturally look for connections and things in common.

      I’m sorry you have this to worry about. Good luck!

      1. Feathers McGraw*

        Not that making those assumptions is good to do, in case that wasn’t clear.

      2. Czhorat*

        Great advice, especially changing the topic. One risk of which to be aware is that of letting the interview be sidetracked into a discussion of religious dress. That isn’t what you’re there to talk about.

        Of course, the risk of not saying anything is that the interviewer might distract themselves wondering about it. It’s a challenge, but shouldn’t be a major one. Good luck

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          The risk of that should be pretty low. Most (not all, of course, but most) interviewers know to steer clear of religion in interviews.

      3. Religious Nutter*

        LW here. Good idea regarding changing the subject. I might try that. Moving on to another topic would definitely help keep the interview on track. I’m not the best conversationalist under pressure, so it’s good to think of these things ahead of time.

        1. ThatGirl*

          Can I just say as a “regular” Mennonite I appreciate you specifying Old Order. People tend to look at me funny when they see I’m not dressed plainly.

          Anyway, if you live in an area with any amount of OOM/Amish/Old German Baptist Brethren/other plain Anabaptist/Plain Quaker/Muslim/Orthodox Jewish population I doubt anyone will blink twice when you say it’s religious.

          1. Solidus Pilcrow*

            People of the upper Midwest are quite familiar with Amish and Old Order Mennonite. (The grocery store in my hometown has buggy parking for the local Amish.) Plain Dress wouldn’t be a problem here.

            1. ThatGirl*

              You live in Goshen? :)

              (My mom lives in Goshen, and I have a long family history there… if you don’t live in Goshen, well, their Walmart has buggy parking.)

              1. Solidus Pilcrow*

                Not Goshen. I’m from a small town in NW Wisconsin you’ve never heard of. :) Hopped the border and now I’m in Minnesota.

              2. Astrid*

                I took my driver’s test in Goshen in the late 1980s because it was supposed to be easier than in the city. My dad was standing outside of the DMV when I finished the road test. I was so proud to have passed, but as I pulled up with the examiner in the passenger seat, I accidentally caught the rims of my sister’s 1968 Mustang on the high buggy curb. It looked like a slow-motion stunt as one side of the car was well off the ground. All I could see was my dad face-palming. I still passed, but it was foreshadowed the tragic end of that car a few months later.

            2. Elizabeth West*

              Down here in the southern plains, too. I grew up in an area where buggies were not super common , though there are plenty of Mennonites who drive cars but wear plain dress. And when I lived with a boyfriend who had a farm (just an hour’s drive from where I grew up), all but two of our neighbors were Amish. I see Amish folks at my local Aldi’s ALL the time. Nobody I used to know, sadly, though it’s been long enough that some of them are probably their grown kids and we don’t recognize each other!

        2. Lora*

          If you’re in PA, OH, Indiana, nobody will bat an eyelash. Other areas, be prepared for a lot of questions.

          Dad left the community before I was born, I am agnostic as can be, but as soon as anyone finds out where I am from (I live in Boston, from Lancaster PA), the questions start. It’s like people can’t help themselves. They KNOW they aren’t supposed to ask, but they ask anyway in a roundabout manner. Mostly about the TV shows. “Did you see the teevee show?” No, I don’t watch teevee. “Oh…are you not allowed?” No, I just don’t like teevee other than Game of Thrones.

          They’ll be kind of afraid to ask about your head covering, actually. That will be the least of the questions you get. After teevee, the second most common question is about farming, and close third is the internet. So, hmmm, now that I think about it, you may wish to emphasize your computer skills.

          #1 dumbest question I got was actually from someone raised Hasidic Jewish: Did you not have internet or computers when you were a kid? No, because the internet wasn’t available to the public in the 1970s! My dad had a TRS-80 in the early 80s, does that count?

          Mostly you get treated like the ambassador and representative for all Amish/Mennonite/Bretheren everywhere, regardless of your actual religion. Which is mostly a mild annoyance and occasionally entertaining. People will feel compelled to explain a lot of pop culture references to you in a sort of condescending way.

          1. Lora*

            Oh yeah, and the most weirdly offensive comment I ever got: “I think the Amish, being hardworking and living off the land, are closer to God.” Um…what? I didn’t even know what to say to that.

            1. Elizabeth H.*

              This seems like a kind of naive think to say and maybe inappropriate in a social context, but curious as to why it was extremely offensive? Maybe I’m misunderstanding – are you not Amish but instead, a different religious sect and the person was being disparaging of your background in comparison with the Amish? Or disparaging that you personally had left the community? On first reading it sounds to me more like the person was trying to express respect for Amish customs.

              1. Lora*

                I’m not Amish but my dad used to be Old Order Mennonite, and he left the community and became a grumpy agnostic before I was born. So yeah, there was the whole “you USED to be close to God and now you’re terrible” aspect to it, but even if I was Old Order Mennonite, that would be considered a sort of awful thing to say. You’re not supposed to put yourself above anybody else – that would be prideful and sinful. There’s a lot of “You are not special. You are not a beautiful or unique snowflake. You’re the same decaying organic matter as everything else.” It’s like Tyler Durden but with Jesus and no fistfights.

                The technology thing is not “there’s no computers in the Bible,” it’s more like dealing with the world’s slowest, most risk-averse, deciding everything by committee IT department. If you NEED a thing, you will get it eventually after a lot of debate and group discussion and after everyone reaches complete consensus and everyone gets to share it, and then you will get the very cheapest most basic model. My Old Order Amish cousins sell furniture and candy and whatnot on the Internet.

                1. Elizabeth H.*

                  Thanks for the clarification, that makes sense. I was already thinking about the aspect of it being disrespectful to other religions even while praising the Amish. Overall it just seems more like a weird thing to say.

                  Coincidentally, like other commenters in this thread, I too was raised Quaker. But in New England, where it’s really different and very, very liberal.

                2. Chinook*

                  “The technology thing is not “there’s no computers in the Bible,” it’s more like dealing with the world’s slowest, most risk-averse, deciding everything by committee IT department”

                  LOL. I think you have also come up with the best description for how change is made in the Catholic church too. This would be the exact reason it took 50 years and three attempts to come up a with final translation of our services from Latin to English (literally the version we had been using in the interim was only a draft).

                  I wonder if other religions also function that way?

              2. Why Don't We Do It in the Code*

                Maybe because it implies other religions are not as close to God. It’s a weird thing (to me) to express aloud comparative statements on people’s beliefs.

              3. Dust Bunny*

                Quaker here. I am not, and we are not on the whole (some individuals are Plain by choice), Plain any more, and haven’t been for a century, but a lot of people, it turns out, don’t know this. I’ve had people ask me where my normal clothes are. I’ve also had people accidentally guess correctly that I’m Quaker because I was dressed up for a Civil War reenactment (plain brown flannel dress and apron).

                I’m not sure I’d go as far as “extremely offensive” but there is an element of fetishization of Plain sects by others that is . . . super weird. There’s also a lot of misinformation, stereotyping, and conflating. People who say things like this mean it well but it’s akin to putting women on a pedestal, etc. It’s dehumanizing. You become a bonnet or black hat instead of an actual person who actual person foibles who is part of a community that has its own set of stressors, as all communities do.

                1. ThatGirl*

                  Yes, there is a lot of Amish fetishization out there, I used to work in Shipshewana, Ind, in a touristy furniture/home goods store and people were looney.

                2. Quaker Banker*

                  I am a Quaker, too! Like you, I don’t dress Plain, and when people find out that I am a Quaker, I usually get asked some question about why I am not wearing a dress and head covering, or if I have a car or electricity/TV/internet in my home. I don’t find it offensive by any means (I usually laugh), but it can get kind of obnoxious to be asked those types of questions on a regular basis. There is such a fascination with Plain culture, especially in the United States!

                3. ella*

                  Just chiming in as another Quaker! I’m so excitedly pleased that there are at least three of us in the comment section, and would not be surprised if I’d run across you IRL somewhere (but don’t really feel the need to confirm). I think the most fun “Oh, you’re a Quaker?!” reaction I’ve gotten is, “I thought there weren’t any more Quakers.” (For context, the person saying this was my high school history teacher.)

                  Not knowing if LW is a gent or a lady, I wonder if they must stick with the bonnet/hat, or if they can wear a less conspicuous head covering? If they’re a lady, they might be able to wear a scarf, though maybe they would then just look like a nun or an old lady. I’ve known a few Quakers who wore hats that they did not remove, but none of them were plain dress, so they were just wearing flat caps or berets and didn’t stick out overly much.

                4. Elizabeth H.*

                  I find being Quaker really difficult to explain, in part because there are a lot of different takes on it most of which I don’t identify with (I don’t consider myself Quaker personally, just that I was raised that way, and I do value it/identify with it specifically part of my background). I do find that pretty much nobody has any idea what actually goes on in a Quaker meeting or anything else whatsoever unless he or she has been to a meeting.

                5. Quaker Banker*

                  Like ella, I am pleasantly surprised to see so many Quakers in the comment section on here! Elizabeth H, I agree that it can hard to explain Quakerism sometimes. When I first started dating my husband, I tried explaining silent meeting to him, and he was somewhat baffled.

                6. Religious Nutter*

                  I guess I found the thread where all the Friends are hanging out. Surprising to see so many in a non-Quaker forum. ;-)

                7. Maco*

                  I know a Friend who was sent to the principal’s office for correcting her social studies teacher on that point.

                8. Not So NewReader*

                  @ Maco. I am thinking of the Shaker Museum in Massachusetts. An entirely different group of people, of course. But I think people mix the two groups.

              4. Religious Nutter*

                LW here,

                It’s the Noble Savage fallacy dressed up in another form. “They turned away from modern life so they’re more PURE.” It’s gross for the same reason, instead of dealing with the person in front of you, you’re dealing with a made-up idea of what you wish their life was like. It’s infantilizing.

                1. Lora*

                  Yes! This. You’re a tourist attraction instead of a person. I am not Dutch Wonderland.

          2. kms1025*

            Hi Lora…also from Lancaster, PA here :)
            One of the many “English” that tourists seem to think aren’t native here :)

          3. Mackenzie*

            Eh, I grew up in Pittsburgh, PA. Philly might be used to Plain dress, but Pittsburgh? Nope. Closest you get are Orthodox Jews over in Squirrel Hill.

        3. Darren Garrison*

          There is a story about Vlad Tepes that he was once visited by foreign dignitaries that refused to remove their hats in front of him for religious reasons. So he nailed their hats to their heads.

          So, the lesson you should get from this is, don’t go to an interview with Vlad Tepes.

        4. ella*

          If you have any interviews over the next month or so, you may be able to the quick explanation of “religious thing that I’d prefer not to get too detailed about” into people’s heads much more easily. People’s conceptions of Lent/Easter/Quakers/Amish/Ramadan/Shavot/whatever can be so weird and general that they may just assume you’re doing “something for Lent” and let it go. At some point you’d obviously have to address that this isn’t a temporary thing you’re doing, but by that time they know more about you and your skillset as well.

      4. Parenthetically*

        Yep, a matter-of-fact explanation and a breezy subject change is the way to go. It’s a great way to diffuse potential awkwardness over all sorts of subjects you’re comfortable with but other people might not know how to navigate. It shows professionalism and is ultimately really kind, because it’s not a bomb-drop, just a piece of relevant information passed along skillfully.

    2. Ktelzbeth*

      There are a fair number of Hutterites in my area, so this is another place no one would likely bat an eye.

  5. Feathers McGraw*

    #3 Yep, everyone has their own way of using LinkedIn. I don’t request to connect with strangers, but I’ll accept requests if and only if I think they look relevant to connect with. It’s not necessarily about whether I can recommend them – more, does it make sense for me to talk to them. I’ve got exactly two useful things out of it from strangers: one freelance job years ago, and one invite to a prestigious event that was more relevant to my manager (and I categorically didn’t want to go) so it was cool to be able to hook her up with an invite.

    I have a job title that can mean one of two completely different things. Kind of like how security officer can refer to IT or physical security on a premises. Even though I’ve selected an industry on my profile that I think makes it clear which one I do, I sometimes get connection requests from people in the other industry, in some cases people in impressive sounding roles. I feel guilty turning those down – I’m not sure why, as I don’t know them!

    Casting a critical over your contacts and deleting any that feel irrelevant is probably worth doing.

    1. Czhorat*

      I find social networks less useful if you indiscriminately add everyone. I haven’t heard it used in a while, but people who add everyone on LinkedIn are sometimes known as “LIONs” (for LinkedIn Open Network).

      1. HR Jeanne*

        So that’s what that means! I have recruiter friend who has LION by his account. That makes sense, because he wants as many connections as possible in order to find candidates. Good to know.

    2. Red 5*

      OP here, I think that’s part of what gets me about this practice, I wouldn’t connect with strangers in general so it confuses me when they add me. Though I know why they do it, it’s a very competitive industry and there’s this idea of “you never know where your next job can come from.” Which is true, but in the years I’ve been on LinkedIn, none of my jobs have come from there, and most of the people connecting with me seem to be looking for jobs rather than looking to hire. My position on there does look like I do hiring, but that almost never happens, that’s probably part of where I get them from.

      1. Feathers McGraw*

        I’m not sure it’s always about hiring and recruitment though. I love my job and want to stay in it – I use LinkedIn to network and make myself look well connected…

      2. Morning Glory*

        I know a couple of reasons my last boss connected with a lot of people:

        He published LinkedIn articles, and the larger his network, the more views they got. Because the view-count is public, he wanted a higher count so that the people he did care about, like potential clients, would see him in higher standing as an influencer or SME.

        You can also often see more of some people’s profiles who are 3rd degree connections or closer, depending on their privacy settings. If there was a person he wanted to check out but not necessarily connect with yet (due diligence on a job candidate or a potential client), a large network increased the likelihood that he could do this without a problem.

        These reasons don’t apply to everyone of course, but they made sense for him in his line of work.

    3. Mephyle*

      I’ve got two pet peeves about connection requests from strangers on LinkedIn.
      1) People who don’t change the default text for the connection request (literally everyone). So, I have no idea what you think we might have in common. Am I the only person in the world who has figured out that you can change the default text to something personalized?
      2) People who use LinkedIn as a dating network.

  6. Dan*


    I’m sure I’ll get pushback that this is field dependent and all of that, but realistically, they are serious if they pay the bill. Even when I was straight out of school, I never paid for my own interview expenses, and had plenty of out of town interviews.

    If they don’t pay the bill, you have to take your chances. They also generally won’t know where you stand until they meet you. (I know for me that until I have firm offers on the table, every interview has a fair shot at making their pitch, and I won’t make assessments until I’ve met people in person.)

    I just can’t see too many scenarios where you can be both a leading candidate AND have to pay interview expenses. If you’re middle of the pack and there are a lot of applicants, you’re going to have a lot of interviews that don’t pan out.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      It definitely is field dependent. It’s also job dependent, in some cases. If an employer has plenty of well-qualified local applicants, they have no incentive to pay travel expenses for out-of-town applicants (and deal with the other hassles of non-local applicants). If you’re say, a nonprofit with a limited budget and you have plentiful good local candidates, you might not be able to justify paying to bring out-of-town people in. And many non-local job candidates desperately want an in to other markets, which may mean that they have to get themselves there to be interviewed if they want to be in the running.

      If you’re in a field where it’s the norm for employers to pay for travel, it’s easy to think “if they’re serious, they’ll pay.” But it’s really not the case across the board.

      1. Chocolate Teapot*

        I was applying for jobs in another country, and the worst situation I had was applications via a recruiter. They would want to meet me in person, before considering whether to put me forward, but would not pay anything towards travel expenses. Bear in mind this was a time when I was a not very well off newish graduate, and needed paid employment! In the end, I would save up for a visit to the country and have a couple of intensive days of interviews and appointments.

      2. Manic Pixie HR Girl*

        This. If a candidate is serious about relocating to the specified geographic area, I wouldn’t want to not offer them an interview just because we couldn’t pay for travel expenses (and, typically, I can’t authorize that). I would rather leave it up to the candidate to make that choice. Having said that, if I knew it was a position where we had “someone in mind” I wouldn’t drag an out of towner in to an interview, either.

    2. Jeanne*

      OP says “and budget out some travel costs.” I can’t decide if that means the whole cost of travel or part of it. They might pay flight and hotel but not food or airport parking or other expenses. There might even be lost income.

    3. Triangle Pose*

      My experience has been exactly the same as yours, but from friends in other fields and from this website, it’s clear to me that the non-profit world, smaller employers, and other industries simply don’t work that way. It’s the norm is some fields but it’s not at all realistic to generalize and say that if any employer takes your candidacy seriously, they will pay for travel.

      1. MegaMoose, Esq*

        In my experience, government jobs (almost?) never pay travel either. I’ve interviewed for both state and federal jobs that required flying across the country and reimbursement was definitely not a thing.

    4. Observer*

      Also, the problem for the OP is that some of these interviews never had a chance of turning into a job offer. In other words, it was not “OK, you are a serious contender, but we have several that look REALLY good.” but “Ok, I’m not going to tell you this, but I’m not going to hire you no matter what you do.”

    5. Lily in NYC*

      We have never paid for candidate travel and we never will. I think you underestimate how many offices do not reimburse travel expenses. I’ve only had one employer that did so.

    6. Christian Troy*

      I did a nearly identical thing as the LW in that question. I don’t know anyone who pays for job interviews unless its for something in tech or a very senior position. There are just too many good, local candidates that most people have to work with it.

  7. neverjaunty*

    Re #1, I don’t think this warrants firing Fergus either, but I’m pretty surprised at how soft this response was. Fergus may not have been malicious, but he was extremely reckless and thoughtless. And he should absolutely pay for any medical bills, because he’s a freaking adult, not an eight-year-old who didn’t know better.

    1. Czhorat*

      Yes. I’d be OK firing him, but also OK keeping him with a serious warning.

      It’s such a lapse in judgement that I’d call his professionalism into question. I can’t imagine any of the co-workers for whom I’ve had respect doing something like that.

      1. Jeanne*

        My problem is it sounds like an escalating prank war. This prank went bad but maybe other pranks could have gone bad and luckily didn’t. To fire one and keep the other seems out of proportion. I say tell them both to stop it immediately.

        1. Jeanne*

          I read it wrong so I have no proof of prank war but I would investigate. I’ve seen it before.

        2. neverjaunty*

          Setting aside that this is not even mentioned by the OP, it doesn’t matter if it’s an escalating prank war. Fergus did something dangerous and stupid. He didn’t cover Niles’s mouse pad in corgi photos.

          1. Kittymommy*

            Agree, but if anyone wants to pack me by covering my mousepad in corgi photos (or kitties!), I’ll send you my address!!

          2. Emi.*

            I think it does matter if it’s an escalating prank war. If Niles had previously done something that was also dangerous and stupid, but only Fergus’s dangerous and stupid prank happened to have such a bad outcome just by bad luck, it’s unfair for all the responsibility to fall on Fergus.

            1. neverjaunty*

              If Niles had done something dangerous and stupid, then he should be disciplined for doing something dangerous and stupid, period. Fergus is responsible for his own actions. “Well HE did it FIRST” is for grade schoolers, not grown adults in the workplace.

        3. Sarah*

          Yes, I think Allison’s suggestion that there is zero tolerance for any future pranks, no matter how “harmless” or well-intentioned is an excellent one.

      2. Lablizard*

        Yep. You are also stuck dealing with a worker’s comp claim or equivalent if not in the US, which is a huge passion the ass. I would take it to written warning/one more issue and you are gone level. I would fire if the apology was “I am sorry this happened” not “I am sorry I did this.”

      3. Rhys*

        Also what even is the point of this prank if you weren’t expecting the person to sit on the scissors? “OHHHHHH SNAP! YOU HAD TO TAKE TWO SECONDS TO BEND DOWN AND REMOVE THOSE SCISSORS FROM YOUR CHAIR! YA PRANKED!”

    2. MK*

      I think that people in these situations tend to take their cues from the victim, which… isn’t really the right think to do, in my opinion. I mean, if Niles was demanding Fergus be fired, would the company do that? What if the prank was not as dangerous and no one had been hurt, would they fire someone because the victim demanded it? What I mean is, the victim’s perspective matters, but it shouldn’t be the deciding factor; the company should be determining what is acceptable and not in their workplace.

      1. Mookie*

        Yes, this is pretty much my take on it, with the caveat that all behavior — whether or not it has violent or bloody consequences (inadvertent or otherwise) — has mitigating contexts, but sometimes there are hard-and-fast rules, and it’s up to the employer to set and then enforce when and where these standards operate, and in a case like this I could see it going either way. The OP asked whether other factors might be considered in determining Fergus’s status as an employee going forward; I’d want to know what the rest of their team thought, both about the pranking in general and this one in particular, whether they feel safe, whether they feel distracted, whether Niles is also due for a talking-to, etc.

        1. Lady Ariel Ponyweather*

          Yes! What the rest of the team thinks is really important. Many people hate pranks. If something like this happened at my work, I would constantly be anxious and on edge, wondering what harmful prank is coming next.

          OP, please make sure your employees know that pranks are not okay, full stop. Pranks always escalate as people try to outdo themselves. People who don’t like them will find it harder to focus on their work. They’ll be wondering if today’s the day they’re humiliated and hurt. It doesn’t matter what a person’s intent was, it’s the outcome that counts.

          1. A Bag of Jedi Mind Tricks*

            +1. I’m not a fan of Pranks. At my old job a prank actually ended with one person being seriously burned and another person DYING!!!!! If that wasn’t bad enough, another fallout of the prank was trying to decide if the injured person was eligible for workers comp because of what time the prank occurred (it happened minutes after an office party). So, should Fergus be fired?? maybe not. But he should definitely be reprimanded and a Zero tolerance for Pranks Policy should be implemented ASAP.

            1. Czhorat*

              Wow. That’s horrific. I can understand why you aren’t a fan.

              Part of me wants to ask what kind of prank actually kills somebody.

              1. A Bag of Jedi Mind Tricks*

                The office party theme was Hawaii. Which means Grass skirts–DRY grass skirts. Someone thought it would be funny to take a lighter to the person’s dry grass skirt. As everyone knows, Fire + dry grass= INFERNO.

                1. PollyQ*

                  God, how horrible.

                  And this actually reinforces my feeling that firing Fergus might be the right way to go, to send a message that there’s zero tolerance for pranks in the workplace.

                2. Lance*

                  Holy wow. I really hope the ‘prankster’ was quickly fired, or at the very least given heavy repercussions. Nobody with any sense should think that a ‘prank’ involving fire would ever be a good idea.

                3. Grey*

                  If it’s the story I just found through Google, it’s even worse than it sounds here.

                4. RVA Cat*

                  I really hope that person went to prison. That is horrific. IANAL but that sounds like second degree murder.

                5. bunniferous*

                  I will not post the link because maybe not everyone needs to read how horrible it was but yes, easily googlable and there was a prosecution and jail sentence.

                6. bunniferous*

                  Ohhh-what is worse is that this was not the only incident of its kind when I did google. Holy cow.

                7. Observer*

                  I’m fine with a NO PRANKS policy. But, you really, really don’t need such a policy to avoid this kind of behavior. If you are old enough to hold a job, you are old enough to know that setting fire to things is a BAD IDEA. Setting fire to dry grass is a TERRIBLE idea, setting fire to anything that someone is wearing is and INSANELY BAD idea, and setting fire to dry grass that someone is wearing is SOOOOO out there that it’s either malicious or someone is clinically insane (as in delusional and can’t tell the difference between a person and a tree).

                8. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

                  Wow—that’s pathological. Fergus’ “prank” was bad, but at least it’s possible to have an outcome that doesn’t result in severe injury. Lighting someone on fire, conversely, only has serious outcomes. I’m so sorry.

                9. FowlTemptress*

                  This was your office? Somehow I think you simply read this on reddit like the rest of us.

                10. The Not Mad But Occasionally Irritable Scientist*

                  Holy mackerel. This comment thread certainly escalated.

                11. Rusty Shackelford*

                  From what I’m reading, it wasn’t dry grass, it was an artificial grass skirt, which would have been made of plastic. And that’s worse.

                12. Kelly L.*

                  @Rusty, yup, a dry grass skirt might have burned itself out quickly or been able to be doused with water in time (they were in a bathroom). That plastic shit just melts and melts. Those poor people.

                13. Artemesia*

                  That isn’t an unexpected outcome; that person should have been prosecuted for murder. Lighting someone on fire doesn’t accidentally result in burns.

              1. A Bag of Jedi Mind Tricks*

                Hi Rusty See right above your comment. The person whose grass skirt was set on fire died and the person was standing next to was badly burned.

                1. Sheworkshardforthemoney*

                  That is so many degrees of awful. Was the prankster charged with anything? Or fired at least? A friend worked at a fast food place and was fired on the spot for joking about contaminating the drink of a friend who was on the other side of the counter getting an order. I believe in zero tolerance on workplace pranks.

                2. A Bag of Jedi Mind Tricks*

                  Hi. Yes, in this case the person that set the fire was fired and charged with a crime.

            2. Temperance*

              Wow. I hope that your idiot former coworker was prosecuted, sued, and fired. That’s horrifying.

            3. Lady Ariel Ponyweather*

              Oh my God. I have no words for this. It must have been traumatic. Thank you for sharing this story and I’m glad the person was charged, although they shouldn’t have done this in the first place. I will never understand what motivates some people.

              1. A Bag of Jedi Mind Tricks*

                You can Google the story. It happened in 2001. I worked in the HR Department in the US office. We learned about it when the issue of workers comp came up.

                1. Lady Ariel Ponyweather*

                  I did and it’s horrific. I hope the injured co-worker got the help and support she needed (not asking for details here, only expressing sympathy).

                2. RVA Cat*

                  Wow. Arsonbro looks like some preppie mix of Draco Malfoy and Eminem, because of course he does.

          2. TL -*

            Woah. Pranks don’t always escalate – At my old workplace, we had one centered around putting packing peanuts in unexpected places. It never went anywhere dangerous or mean and just stopped on its own after a while.

            This one clearly got way out of hand but plenty of places/people feel differently (and have good judgment, which is the main issue here.)

            1. Newby*

              I would say that the only acceptable pranks are the ones that CAN’T go wrong and don’t have the potential to scare someone. My sister and her coworker like to mess with each other a bit by doing things like rearranging the other’s desk to be a mirror image of what it was before and stuff like that. There is no potential for anyone to get hurt.

              1. TL -*

                That’s where the good judgement part comes in, honestly. Putting scissors on a sitting or walking surface is bad judgement, regardless of the reason.

              2. Detective Amy Santiago*

                A favorite at OldJob was flipping someone’s screen if they left their computer unlocked when they walked away from their desk.

                1. The Southern Gothic*

                  I worked at Big Red Bank about 8 years ago where our work director (team lead) would do this as punishment if we walked away from our desk without locking our screens.
                  Took several minutes of monkeying with the settings to correct.
                  She was evil.

                2. JustaTech*

                  At my SO’s last job if you left your computer unlocked when you walked away *everyone* was under orders from the computer security guy to change your background to Justin Bieber. They worked on some sensitive stuff in an open office so it was a funny way to get a serious point across.

                3. myswtghst*

                  In both my current and previous job we need(ed) employees to lock their computers for information security reasons, so I was always completely okay with flipping screens / pulling up silly websites / changing desktop backgrounds / etc… as a way to encourage people to lock their computers going forward.

              3. Kyrielle*

                Yes, this.

                “Gift-wrapping” someone’s office, if you’re careful not to wrap anything that could damage equipment or start a fire (so no covering the computer equipment, especially the vents – although a holiday bow atop the monitor could be cute), is kinda funny. Changing someone’s computer wallpaper to the Powerpuff Girls or something of the sort because they left their computer unlocked, likewise.

                Unlike scissors on a chair or…lighting someone’s clothing on fire. O.o Or the one from an older letter about locking some poor person out on a balcony.

              4. Larina*

                Someone somewhere once said “Confuse, don’t abuse” in regards to pranks. I’ve always felt it was a good standard to go by.

                If there’s any possibility of harming someone, it’s not a good prank. If someone will be thrown off or confused by a strange occurrence, then it could potentially be a good prank.

              5. Hillary*

                We have electric sit-stand desks from Ikea. it’s not unusual to come back to the office to find your desk at a weird height and the key gone.

            2. Detective Amy Santiago*

              At OldJob, we pranked our manager one year by all of us calling off sick on April Fools Day. A few of us texted her and a few called. Some did it the night before and some did it that morning. When she came in and saw us all there, she was really confused.

              She got us back by having someone put sticky notes over our mouse sensors while we were in a meeting.

              Those are appropriate workplace pranks.

            3. Temperance*

              I have a coworker who I am in a mild prank war with. We have a very unflattering photo of a baby that we hide in each other’s desk on occasion.

            4. Lady Ariel Ponyweather*

              That’s true and I did assume that this was a prank war. I’ll revise my earlier statement to say that pranks do tend to escalate when there are no clear boundaries and/or the people involved have less-than-stellar judgement. This is why it’s better to be safe than sorry when it comes to pranks.

              What you describe at your old workplace really does sound like a fun joke rather than a prank. It wasn’t designed to mock or humiliate anyone, and really is harmless.

          3. Parenthetically*

            I HATE pranks. The idea that it’s fun or funny to concoct an often-elaborate scheme with the express purpose of humiliating and mocking someone has just never made a lick of sense to me. I understand there are degrees of pranks (I have a coworker who always pranks new teachers with plastic spiders and cockroaches in various places around the building, but only after warning them that she’s a bit of a prankster), but the spirit behind them is often just so petty and cruel.

            So yes, count me as one of those people who would find this sort of workplace intolerable.

            1. A Bag of Jedi Mind Tricks*

              +10000. I totally agree with you, Parenthetically-The idea that it’s fun or funny to concoct a scheme with the purpose of humiliating someone has never made any sense to me either.

              1. Amy The Rev*

                Agreed- there’s a difference between pranks meant to be funny and bring delight to the prankee (like the one TL mentioned about putting packing peanuts in funny places, or sticking googly eyes on all the containers in the fridge, etc), and pranks meant to embarrass/humiliate someone, which I find generally a mean-spirited thing to do and inappropriate for the workplace.

                1. Marillenbaum*

                  That’s a very important point. At my old office, we once had a coworker who put pictures of Nicholas Cage in surprising places (think the inside of the fridge, or slipped inside of someone’s stack of mail). It was a light-hearted callback to an earlier conversation, and was about making the prankee smile, rather than feel foolish or embarrassed.

                2. zora*

                  But counterpoint to Marillenbaum: A coworker started a similar prank, took this creepy photo of a guy that was an inside joke, and hid it all over my desk so that when I came in one morning, it was there to surprise me (on the screen when I opened my laptop, in my drawers, etc). And she thought it was just silly, but honestly, I felt pretty foolish and embarrassed. She thought we were way better friends than we were, and felt really weird on my end. I mean, even though it was a lighthearted joke, the main point of it was to get a rise out of me, which is embarrassing in the right context (like this one: work, where I was trying to look mature and knowledgeable to junior colleagues in the office).

                  So, even when the pranker is positive it’s just funny and won’t hurt anyone’s feelings… it can still hurt someone’s feelings. Feelings aren’t always that simple.

                  I don’t think pranks are a good idea in the workplace at all. I think it’s better for your friends/family, people you know a lot better and really know how they will feel about the prank.

            2. an anon is an anon*

              Even different degrees of pranks can have unintended consequences. What your coworker does might not end well if someone has a serious phobia of spiders or cockroaches. Warning that person that she’s a prankster might make them worry even more. I’d probably seriously think about quitting if I was new to a job with a coworker who liked to play pranks like that on new employees. It’s still petty and cruel, even if the prank seems harmless to her.

              I say this as someone who once had a prank pulled on them involving a plastic snake, and I have a severe snake phobia. The pranker thought it was harmless. I had a panic attack.

              1. Lady Ariel Ponyweather*

                I wanted to reply to that part but couldn’t properly explain my thoughts. This is exactly what I wanted to say, and you’re absolutely right. Telling someone would only make it worse. Instead of pranking people, how about making them feel welcome by treating them like a human being?

                I’m sorry you had a panic attack. Hope you are having a good day today and that you get to see lots of cute animals of your choice!

              2. Rusty Shackelford*

                We’ve done what I consider to be absolutely harmless pranks back in our past, like changing someone’s computer to have pink text on a yellow background (back in the day when we were all using WordPerfect with white text on a blue background) or replacing desk pictures of an employee’s fiance with those of another employee’s new grandchild. But yeah, anything that plays on embarrassment or fear is someplace you should not go. (And honestly, maybe pink on yellow was triggering for somebody? That was a long time ago. We don’t do anything now.)

              3. cncx*

                exactly this. i have ptsd and cannot be startled or scared from behind. any type of prank that involves springing something on me or frightening me with a loud noise would involve a panic attack and the rest of the day off. another person would probably have a much more normal response, like be annnoyed or laugh it off or whatever.

            3. Lady Ariel Ponyweather*

              +infinity. It’s not fair but I don’t care – if I know someone is into pranks, I know not to trust them and keep away. Pranking is about being cruel and malicious. (I should add that a joke between friends is different.)

            4. fposte*

              Pranks don’t automatically mean the goal of humiliating or mocking somebody, though. Sometimes they’re just the physical equivalent of a verbal joke.

              We go through this discussion every time pranks come up in AAM–to some people they’re silly fun that lightens their workplace load, and to some people they’re cruelty. But there’s a vast range, so you can’t define the category as always being one or the other of those.

              1. Lady Ariel Ponyweather*

                You know, your comment made me realise that for me, there’s a difference between a joke and a prank. I didn’t realise that what I call a joke (say, the example above about Nicholas Cage pictures) others would call a prank.

                1. Parenthetically*

                  Yep, same. I think some of it is semantics, because to me a “prank” is something designed to cause embarrassment or make someone the object of laughter, and a “joke” is something silly designed to make EVERYONE laugh. I wouldn’t call sticking googly eyes on all the objects on someone’s desk or hiding creeper Nic Cage pictures in random places a prank, just a goof. In my mind, the key thing that makes a prank a prank is wanting to make the prankee look or feel foolish to laugh AT them.

                2. Lady Ariel Ponyweather*

                  @ Parenthetically: Exactly. That’s an excellent explanation. Thank you!

              2. Ask a Manager* Post author

                Yep, every time this comes up there’s a huge divide between people who think they’re abhorrent and people who enjoy them and know other people who enjoy them. It’s seriously one of the biggest divides here.

          4. Marillenbaum*

            That’s an excellent point. At my old office, we used to occasionally do silly things, and some of the junior-level staff would play jokes on each other, but there was also a very clear standard of what was and was not acceptable: for instance, the time I covered a coworker’s desk (and every item on it) in aluminum foil was okay, or the time our boss brought in “brownies” (just a tin filled with the letter “E” cut out of brown construction paper). But it was also understood that the work came first, you don’t mess up people’s property or work product, and if someone doesn’t want to participate, you don’t make them.

            1. AdAgencyChick*

              “or the time our boss brought in “brownies” (just a tin filled with the letter “E” cut out of brown construction paper)”

              I want to work for that boss.

              1. Rusty Shackelford*


            2. Lady Ariel Ponyweather*

              The brownies one is hilarious and very cute! What you describe here sounds perfectly fine because very clear boundaries had been established. (And I really have to steal that brownie joke, sorry!)

        2. MK*

          Actually, I don’t agree 100%. Yes, it matters what the rest of the team feels, but it shouldn’t be a deciding factor anymore than what Fergus wants. There should be objective standards for behavior, not “how is everyone taking this”.

        3. irritable vowel*

          I agree that the rest of the team needs to be considered here, since they saw it happen. I almost think that Fergus should be required to apologize for his behavior to the rest of the team. I’m not normally a fan of treating staff like children, but in this case, Fergus and Niles have been behaving like children.

      2. HR Expat*

        And what if the people involved were your worst-performing or least-liked employees? Would the decision still be the same? I’m working through an issue with some of my team where they are calling for a final warning, but they admit that if the victim had been the accuser they would have asked for termination. Not cool.

        1. Czhorat*

          Part of the initial response was this:

          “”Firing shouldn’t be a punishment; it should be a natural consequence when you decide that it no longer makes sense to keep an employee in the job.””

          That’s the answer. The answer to the question of “is this person worth the headache” is dependant on what they bring. Personally, I feel that in most cases letting the rules slide for high-performers hurts morale for everyone, but in most organizations a perceived star will be given more rope.

          1. KAZ2Y5*

            Honestly, I think that a natural consequence of this prank should be that the pranker would be deemed too dangerous to be employed. If they really think it is ok to put a sharp object where someone will be sitting, what else do they think is ok to do? How many worker’s comp claims do the company want to pay?

            1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

              This was my reaction, because it ended badly and could have ended even worse. But if Fergus is otherwise a good employee and already torturing himself with his guilt, and if it’s clear that any future pranks = firing, then I’m reluctantly on board with the suggested course of action. But something about it doesn’t sit right with me, and I think it’s the fact that he chose a dangerous prank. It’s not like Jim putting Dwight’s desk supplies in the vending machine.

            2. Ask a Manager* Post author

              But assuming Fergus has otherwise shown good judgment in other areas, once he’s told “effective immediately, any further pranks will result in firing,” he’s very unlikely to continue playing pranks. If he does, fired, done. But it’s really unlikely that he will.

              Now, you could argue that if his judgment was bad in this area, you can’t trust him in other areas either, but the manager is going to know if that’s likely the case or not, because she’s worked with him and will have a good idea of what his judgment is like in other areas. And really, sometimes someone does something very stupid, is mortified, is called out for it, is told it can never happen again … and things go on just fine.

              1. Lissa*

                Yeah, I sometimes question the conclusion that people come to here that is basically “if they made a bad judgment call about Thing, then you can’t trust them and they should be fired” because I think a lot of people have done something at least once that has been a really bad judgment call — it’s just that in most cases nobody’s going to know if no consequences happen.

                I think that often people say it (fire them because their bad judgment here means you can’t trust him!) because they want to move away from the idea that they are only punishing based on the fact that this one time a thing went badly, so the implication is Fergus would still be fired even if Niles had seen the scissors and picked them up because his judgment would’ve been equally bad. But I really don’t think that would even be on the table had that happened. I don’t think we can get away from the fact that the reactions are different because Fergus was injured.

                I think the best solution is telling him that any further pranks will result in firing, no matter the consequences. And make it clear there’s a zero-tolerance policy for pranks for everyone going forward.

                1. fposte*

                  That’s a good point that the misjudgment would have been the same without the injury.

              2. Grey*

                I think a line needs to be drawn somewhere. Can an injury ever be severe enough to justify a firing?

                1. fposte*

                  I don’t think it works quite like that, though–the punishment is about the misbehavior, not about the outcome.

                2. Grey*

                  I don’t think it’s that simple. Could you permanently injure a coworker and keep your job with the promise you’ll never do it again? Should you keep your job if the victim and all of your coworkers now hate you and are uncomfortable working with you?

                3. fposte*

                  @Grey–I don’t mean it’s completely detached from the outcome, but it’s not controlled by the outcome, either. You thought it was funny to breach HIPAA in a medical facility by getting PHI and papering your friend’s office with pregnancy-related test results? Even if she thinks it’s funny, you’re fired. You have missed key safety lessons and mixed bleach and ammonia together to clean the sink and sent a co-worker to the hospital? I wouldn’t fire for that.

      3. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

        In this particular case, I think it would very much depend on the victim’s stance — specifically because this did involve physical injury, which means that Niles could potentially have a criminal claim against Fergus if he wanted to see it that way. (Not that I’m making a judgment about how likely he’d be to succeed in court, but I could absolutely see a pissed-off and bleeding Niles calling the cops on this.)

        At that point, there’s a huge difference between “Fergus played a prank that sent Niles to urgent care” and “Fergus committed an act of reckless endangerment” in terms of how the company would be handling this.

        1. Locket*

          I have seen cases like this. Juries are highly unsympathetic to young male pranksters to do things the result in physical injury.

        2. Newby*

          I would agree that the victim’s stance matters. It is not the only important aspect, but I think it really contributes to how termination or warning will affect office morale as well as determining how well the two will be able to work together in the future.

        3. Lissa*

          I agree that Niles’ reaction matters, not because it makes Fergus’ actions worse or better but because it will affect things going forward. If Niles really was just done with Fergus and wanted him gone, that would make it a lot harder for everyone going forward. Conversely, if they are best friends and this was part of a prank war and Niles would feel horrible and kind of complicit if Fergus were fired, that matters too.

          The question of whether punishment/consequences should come from results or intent is endlessly fascinating to me. :)

    3. Roscoe*

      I think looking at the relationship of the people does matter. Not that I’m saying there should be no punishment, but if they are friends and are fine, then I think its very different than say hazing the new people. context matters. Relationships matter. the office culture matters. This just seems to be an accident that I’m sure Fergus felt bad about, and he probably bought the guy beers later. If you want to put an end to pranks in the office, thats fine. But we don’t need to go overboard

    4. Kathleen Adams*

      I’m trying to understand the point of the prank. I mean, I accept that Fergus didn’t intend to hurt anybody, but had the prank gone as expected, what would have happened? And how could anything funny be expected to result from sitting on a pair of scissors? I just don’t get it.

      1. Myrin*

        I’m scratching my head a bit, too. I imagine the plan was for Niles to sit down and have the scissors poke him lightly in the behind; Niles jumps out of his chair and starts yelling “Oh shit, what was that?!”. I’m not seeing anything particularly humourous about it tbh but it’s the only thing I can think of.

        1. Kathleen Adams*

          I’m glad it’s not just me. I don’t personally see anything particularly funny about the old tack-on-a-chair prank, but there I can at least see why a few (really immature) people might find it funny. But this? It just seems as though if it had gone as intended, it would have been so…so pointless (pun intended).

      2. BuildMeUp*

        It sounds like, from the letter, that Fergus expected Niles to look at his chair and see the scissors before he sat down. So he didn’t actually think Niles would sit on the scissors. Still terrible judgment, but it doesn’t seem like there was a malicious intent behind the prank.

      3. emma2*

        I interpreted it as an inside joke of some sort. But I would never leave scissors lying on an area people usually sit on. It seems that Fergus was never given the scissor safety talk in school, at home, or otherwise.

    5. AdAgencyChick*

      Agree. If you’re going to leave something on a coworker’s chair, why would it be SCISSORS?

      I might not fire him, but I’d sit him down and tell him that I’m now seriously questioning his judgment.

  8. Czhorat*

    Op1 – while it wasn’t malicious, this is a stupid prank which could have (and did) cause injury. It’s also quite possible that someone else could have sat in Niles’ chair and gotten a posterior-full of scissors. It’s poor enough judgement that I think firing would be not unreasonable, though not necessary. I do think that *any* further pranks should end with Fergus seeking a new job. Work is a place to act like an actual adult.

      1. Locket*

        I’d also going out there’s a difference between a prank and assault.

        In my jurisdiction, this is an assault that can carry jail time.

        There’s a huge difference between a “prank” and an action with a high likelihood of causing serious bodily harm.

        I know of a case where a kid put an extra large tack on a teachers chair as a prank. The teacher required stitches. Guess who ended up having to explain that to a judge ?

        Do not leave anything pointing on someone’s chair. It doesn’t matter if it’s a prank or an accident. People can get hurt.

        I’d be seriously question the intelligence and judgement of the prankster.

      2. starsaphire*

        Seconding the idea of training/education as a good response. Also, consider establishing a rule that pranks of certain types are subject to disciplinary action, especially if there is evidence of escalation.

        1. Czhorat*

          I’m imagining a half-day of scissors safety training.

          1 – The history of scissors. Where they come from, why w use them.
          2 – Identifying parts of modern scissors.

          Snack break

          3 – Dangers associated with scissors
          – You can put an eye out!
          – Do not run with them.
          – When practicing astral projection, keep them away from the silver cord tethering your spirit to your physical body
          – If you meet the fates, keep scissors away from the thread representing your life.
          4 – Case study: Edward Scissorhands

  9. The Wall of Creativity*


    Fired. Anyone could have sat on that chair. If it was me, I’d be suing your company big time. And Fergus would be avoiding dark alleys.

    1. Czhorat*

      Yeah, I also considered that someone else could have sat in the booby-trapped chair.

      At the least, Fergus needs to grow up.

    2. Rat in the Sugar*

      “If it were me….Fergus would be avoiding dark alleys.”

      Whoa, are you implying you’d try to hurt Fergus after this?? That seems really inappropriate. Even if firing were suitable for the situation, I don’t think it’s okay to go making threats about “dark alleys”. Insisting he pay medical bills? Fine. Implying you’d hunt him down outside of work? Not okay.

      1. The Wall of Creativity*

        Would I try to hurt someone that stabbed me in the ads with a pair of scissors? Too ***ing right I would.

    3. SarahTheEntwife*

      Wouldn’t that depend on what the office setup was? I hate pranks and would have no problem firing Fergus for this, but if someone pranked my chair the chances of it affecting anyone else would be pretty minimal because we just don’t use each other’s workstations.

      1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

        I’m curios about this too. I can see how criminal and civil charges could work against Fergus, but not against the company.

    4. kms1025*

      For the first time, totally disagree with Alison :(. Wall of Creativity I completely agree with you. This so-called prank was so over the top, inherently dangerous that it would be a fireable offense IMHO. Anyone could have been hurt or permanently disfigured. Just because they are friends makes no difference. Plus, precedent needs to be set that this is not OK, pranks suck……

  10. Blossom*

    #3 – Most of the strangers who add me are recruiters, and I usually accept them if they seem relevant. I’ll also accept people working in my industry who I feel I’d be happy to meet and talk to if we were in the same room… e.g. they do the same job as me, or a job I’d like to do, or they’re a director or thought-leader. People I might plausibly bump into one day, or hear at a conference.

    It’s not about recommending or communicating with them individually (necessarily), it’s more having an interesting and relevant pool of people with whom to share information and ideas. My LinkedIn newsfeed gives me plenty of useful articles and links, and helps me keep up with my industry.

    1. krysb*

      This. I have 4 types of people on my linked in: recruiters; people I know personally; people who work in my industry, are in industries linked to my industry, or who have/use skills related to mine; and people from specific groups that I also belong to.

      On a somewhat related note, LinkedIn is the only platform where I seek connections. On Facebook, I do not friend people. I put the burden of the decision to become social-media-linked with me on the other person.

      1. many bells down*

        Most of the people I know personally are in tech, and I’m not. It feels a little odd to me that I have 40+ programmers in my connections when the last thing I programmed was a Commodore 64. Sometimes recruiters from tech companies look at my profile and I feel like my connections misled them.

    2. Red 5*

      I’m the OP, and I probably should have pointed out in my letter I think most of the people adding me are doing it in hopes that I will hire them or recommend them because my title looks very impressive (I own my own company, which looks good except I’m the only employee and I very rarely contract any work out). It’s not an industry that tends to use recruiters, though I would have to think seriously about people that I reasonably thought could send work my way.

      I hadn’t thought about the news feed at all because mine has gotten so cluttered I don’t check it. A good pruning could make that a much more useful tool.

  11. Feathers McGraw*

    #2 So your boss is an anxious type who likes information in advance? That’s tough luck – because it’s not like they can get intel on when all their reports are going to die, or have accidents, or be ill. There’s information they can have, and information they have to deal with not having. This is the latter. I’m sorry you’re having to deal with it.

    1. Not So NewReader*

      A good boss realizes that anyone can leave at any time for any reason. She could have a plan in place as to how she will handle that or she could line up options to be considered once the person does leave.

      Barring that, the boss here could look at the company handbook for guidance, consult with HR about SOPs or talk to her own boss about what to do.

      The sad thing here, is the boss is approaching the concern using the hard, slow, painful way of problem solving. Following OP around with constant questions is NOT how to handle this concern. People leave or take extended leave of absence for reasons other than pregnancy. Just because OP is not pregnant does not automatically mean she will stay with the company indefinitely. OP could leave for many other reasons. (Not that you are planning to leave, OP. I am just saying logic is missing from this situation.)

      1. Nonprofit Nancy*

        Agree – although I do understand the additional pressure of work-related travel to zika countries probably makes the boss extra anxious; can they plan to send OP on that trip next week? Next month? Six months from now? They’re still going about it totally wrong of course.

        1. Not So NewReader*

          If the question is about zika then that is how it should be framed. This would avoid the whole pregnancy guessing game. And happily, OP, may be able to provide a definite answer on the zika question.

  12. Marmalade*

    #4 – I like Alison’s advice here. But – and I may get slammed for saying this – I do think you have to consider the fact that a lot of people might count your religious dress against you. Perhaps not legal, but it’s reality. This kind of thing weirds people out, especially because there is a perception that these kind of religious dress codes are linked to a socially conservative mindset and regressive views about womanhood. (I purposefully say ‘perception’ since I’m not aware of the realities, but the stereotypes are out there).
    The hat is another thing. Quite aside from the religious issue, I always thought it was considered rude to wear hats indoors. Truthfully, if I was the interviewer, I would be really thrown by the fact that you wouldn’t remove it. But I live in a very secular country, perhaps things are different in the US.

    1. Honeybee*

      In some cultures in the U.S. it is considered rude to wear headwear indoors, but exceptions are made for religious reasons. And there are lots of prominent religions in the U.S. that require headwear, so it wouldn’t be unusual for an employer to hear that someone cannot remove a hat or other headwear because of religious reasons. Most reasonable people would shrug and move on with it. (And there are other cultures in the U.S. in which wearing a hat indoors isn’t really a big deal at all. At my work place on the U.S. West Coast, people wear hats as part of their outfit for the day and nobody bats an eye. But when I lived on the U.S. East Coast, wearing a hat indoors was really not done.

        1. Al Lo*

          I’m not currently in the West Coast, but I wear hats pretty frequently in my (admittedly casual) office. I really like vintage-inspired hats. Cloches, asymmetric berets (kind of this silhouette), etc. On a bad hair day, with a more casual outfit, I’ll wear a newsboy cap. Sometimes I’ll wear a fascinator clipped into a ponytail, with dressy jeans and heels. I know they might not fly in many offices, but they’re definitely not the kind of outdoor-only hat that is want to take off. They’re planned accessories that are part of the outfit!

            1. Emi.*

              Well, it’s a little more complicated than that. Women should normally remove their hats when they get to work or their own homes (and should not wear hats in the evening at all). But we don’t remove our hats *just* for going indoors the way men do.

              1. Blossom*

                Mm, good point. Like, traditionally women might wear a hat at church, whereas men would doff theirs.

                1. Marillenbaum*

                  And that is for the same reason that traditionally, women were not expected to remove their hats for the national anthem–at the time that rule was developed, a hat was a big folderol that was a clear continuation of the outfit and frequently affixed with large pins, making burdensome to remove and reattach.

            2. AnotherAlison*

              I thought that was true only if you were wearing a traditionally female hat. If you’re wearing a baseball cap or fedora, you’re supposed to take it off even if you’re female (just what I was told).

              1. Turtle Candle*

                That’s what I was taught–that a top hat or a baseball cap or a trilby must be removed regardless of the wearer’s gender when indoors (or during the National Anthem or at funerals or etc.), but a big flowered Sunday hat or bonnet or pillbox could be kept on–that it was the hat and not the sex of the person under it that made the difference.

                Admittedly this rule was enforced in my school in the 90s to catch girls wearing baseball caps, but I rather like it, not least because it reduces gender policing. If a woman wants to wear a ball cap she can take it off indoors, and if a guy wants to wear a Carmen Miranda hat to church, I will be the first to applaud him.

                (And of course religious headwear is always acceptable, to me.)

            3. neverjaunty*

              That is like saying it has always been acceptable for women to wear little white gloves, per Miss Manners. While strictly true, it’s a custom rarely practiced and people will think it odd or pretentious.

            4. Allison*

              I’ve been making a point of removing my hat before entering the lobby of my building – it’s part of a ritual that also involves removing my headphones and getting out my badge. The men at the security desk work hard to keep us safe, they deserve respect.

                1. Allison*

                  That’s true, but people may still appreciate the gesture. Part of being a good, respectful person is doing things people appreciate, and not doing anything that might bother someone. If the security guy finds it disrespectful to wear hats indoors, then wearing a hat indoors in his presence disrespects him, and that’s disrespectful.

                  You should always do everything you possibly can to respect those around you, even if it seems silly or unnecessary to some.

                2. Marcela*

                  Nopes, I do not agree that I have to go out of my way to do everything I can to respect people around me. I would have to live in a fully different way because my full family and most of my country are Catholics and I am NOT. That is crazy!

                3. fposte*

                  @Allison–yes, I’m joining Marcela in disagreement with the statement that being a good person involves “not doing anything that might bother someone.” If you were to phrase it as “not doing something that you know bothers someone and that has no impact to you,” I’d be more on board–if you don’t care, why not please somebody else?–but a lot of freedoms I prize quite highly bother someone.

                4. Allison*

                  I think I have been obsessing about this more than I need to. Maybe. I met someone about 5 years ago who cares very deeply about respect, and gets angry when people disrespect her, or when she sees someone else disrespected, and it’s made me feel like woah, respect is really important to some people. So I’ve been really trying to make sure I respect everyone around me so no one gets angry.

                5. Not So NewReader*

                  Banks around me require people to remove anything that hides a face, sunglassses, hats, whatever. I am betting that should not fly, but it does for now. I am sure I have worn a hat in to the bank, but it does not hide my face. I take my sunglasses off as a courteous response to their request.

          1. PollyQ*

            It sounds like you’re a woman? The rule against wearing hats indoors only applied to men, but given how many men wear baseball caps, etc. indoors nowadays, it’s safe to says that it’s pretty much fallen by the wayside.

          2. Blossom*

            Ah, interesting! I also like the types of hats you describe and would consider them part of the outfit too, but where I live (UK) it’s still a part of the outfit that you take off indoors. Apart from fascinators, I guess.

            1. Immy*

              Yes occasion type hats you would wear to a wedding can be worn inside for women. Any other hat needs to come off inside (also from the UK)

            2. Al Lo*

              In the office, at least, for me it’s less about the etiquette of removing hats and more about what’s appropriate in a business setting. I can imagine that a cloche wouldn’t be appropriate in certain, more business formal (or even traditionally business casual) environments, regardless of etiquette. The etiquette here (western Canada) doesn’t seem to be a huge thing, except for the national anthem (and then mostly for men, or for women who are wearing a traditionally male styled hat, like a cowboy hat or baseball cap), so I was responding a bit more to the business norms. I’m thankful that in my office, I can rock all kinds of headgear!

              1. Chinook*

                “The etiquette here (western Canada) doesn’t seem to be a huge thing, except for the national anthem (and then mostly for men, or for women who are wearing a traditionally male styled hat, like a cowboy hat or baseball cap)”

                I remember there was a big discussion that changed this discussion in Canada when a Sikh entering a Canadian Legion was told to remove his turban. The “no hats” argument was that the Legion was a place of remembrance and tradition was that you removed your hat to show respect and the “hats” argument was that women kept theirs on without causing disrespect.

                The compromise that grudgingly was agreed to ended up centering around how difficult the headgear was to put on. If it could easily and without disruption be removed, headgear is removed regardless of gender. Otherwise, it is left on. So, if hat is pinned (which traditional female head gear was but ball caps aren’t) or hair is wound into it, it stays on. Otherwise, take it off.

                As a result, our current Minister of Defense can freely enter any Legion while wearing his turban and only the crustiest of veterans will raise a fuss.

        2. tigerStripes*

          I like to wear a hat with a brim, because if I’m under fluorescent lights too long without the hat’s protection, I tend to get headaches.

      1. Marmalade*

        And there are lots of prominent religions in the U.S. that require headwear

        Really? The only religions I can think of involving headwear is Judaism (yarmulke) and Sikh turbans. But those I perceive differently than regular hats.

        1. Mookie*

          Denominations within three major, monotheistic world religions mandate headwear under certain conditions (for either or both laity and ‘clerics’), yes.

          1. Parenthetically*

            Yes indeed. I know of plenty of Christian sects that mandate head coverings for certain people or at certain times, and in some regions those folks will be numerous.

            1. Observer*

              Well, Orthodox Judaism either requires (majority) or encourages head covering for women. The real question is whether a wig is considered an appropriate head covering or not.

          1. SimonTheGreyWarden*

            It’s not unheard of – though less common – for Catholic women especially in some enclaves to still wear some kind of headcovering; generally it’s only to Mass, but I have seen it among older Catholic women to still have a little headscarf to cover the top of the head.

            1. (Another) B*

              Just in the traditional Latin msss, before the second Vatican council in the 60s. Most don’t do this anymore.

        2. ThatGirl*

          Amish/old order Menno women wear bonnets; some Adventist women do as well, or prayer caps. A variety of small Anabaptist sects also cover, as do plain-dressing Quakers. And (some) Muslim and Orthodox Jewish women as described below.

          1. Kathleen Adams*

            There are quite a few Amish and Old Order Mennonites in the state I live in. They aren’t that common in the city I work in, but there are cities and towns not far away where they are very common (including the town I live in).

            In any case, the covering the women wear isn’t really what most people think of when they think of a “hat.” It’s either a bonnet (literally) or it’s a small mesh-like thing that covers just part of the head, usually the back hair. The latter is pretty subtle, but it’s also distinctive. Nobody would confuse it with a hat worn for fashion reasons, so really, just saying “I wear the hat/cover/whatever for religious reasons” should be ample. And if the OP lives in an area where Amish and Old Order Mennonites are common, she shouldn’t really have to say anything.

            1. ThatGirl*

              The OP is a he, actually, so that changes things a bit.

              But yes, being (new order) Mennonite myself I am very familiar with the different coverings.

              1. Kathleen Adams*

                Right – I got that. Sorry if I was unclear. I was mostly speaking to Marmalade and others who apparently have an entirely erroneous idea of what sort of “hat” we’re talking about here.

                As for the OP being a male, I didn’t see that until I’d already posted this message.

        3. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

          Of the 5 largest world religions (Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism and Sikhi(sm)), all but one have observational segments that require headwear as an article of faith.

          It’s true that there are folks who will discriminate regardless of the law, but I think it’s important for us to encourage those employers to get training, build understanding, and come into compliance—not to try to convince minority (in the U.S. As a whole) religious groups to abandon their faith.

      2. Not So NewReader*

        I think the idea of taking off hats while inside is less of a thing than it used to be. The one example I have is male friends who have receding hair lines. These friends always wear a hat indoors. A couple decades ago, it seemed odd to me because it had been instilled in me that men should take their hats off inside. While not too much was said about women wearing hats, I definitely had the impression that if a woman put her hat on it was because she was leaving the building very shortly.

        To me, this all boiled down to “no hats while indoors” for anyone. I do think that has changed over the years. The rule is kind of odd because if a person is wearing a hat inside that has little to no effect on anything material. (Except for known safety issues in specific workplaces.)

      3. Jessesgirl72*

        It has only ever been rude for men to wear a hat indoors. Women were expected, and then later still permitted to keep their hats on. Even into the 1960’s, it would have been unreasonable to expect a woman to remove her hat that was often part of an elaborate hairdo.

        Of course, I was making the usual assumption that the OP is a woman. A woman in Plainclothes wearing her prayer cap wouldn’t really stand out that much to me. But the OP may be a man, and a man wearing a brimmed hat that isn’t a baseball cap would be more unusual.

        1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

          I think the fact that it isn’t a basball cap would sway me to think it’s religious and thus fine. But I think OP can help to diffuse assumptions by just clarifying.

          1. Kathleen Adams*

            Oh, if he’s a man, then it would be pretty obvious that it’s not ordinary headwear, at least if it’s anything like the hats the Amish/Mennonite men wear around here. But a little clarification would be perfectly fine, I’d say. It doesn’t have to be a big deal.

      4. an anon is an anon*

        It probably depends on the environment. I live on the US East Coast and hats indoors are pretty common in my social circle, work, and elsewhere. A coworker is wearing a baseball hat right now. Another wears a beanie all day.

        1. Elizabeth West*

          I think too that in recent years, the formality of the setting also dictates the rule. Wearing a beanie or a flat cap at work is not a big deal, unless you’re meeting with clients. Wearing it into a shop–also okay, but unless it’s a religious head covering, church is a bit more formal and (for men) wearing a hat is not done. Wearing a cap while you’re in a museum might be okay, but you’d take it off to meet the Queen.

          1. the gold digger*

            If I am outside and in bright sun, I take my hat off for nobody.

            I do, however, take off my sunglasses for everyone. But only for a short time. I get migraines for nobody.

      5. Sarah*

        Well, and also, it’s actually illegal to discriminate against people for wearing religious headware in the U.S., so regardless of whether it fits with someone’s personal etiquette code, it’s not a personal decision of whether you want to shrug it off or not.

    2. D*

      Going to agree with you here. I think in certain big US cities, the religious clothing wouldn’t cause anyone to bat an eye. But in other areas, the reality is exactly what Marmalade said. People may assume you’ll need extra time off or accommodation for religious reasons, etc. Not right to discriminate but it is the reality that sometimes religious traditions and certain workplace cultures don’t mix.

    3. Jeanne*

      I was assuming OP is female because male plain dress doesn’t stand out as much. And usually the men do take their hats off indoors. The hats women use in this situation are close to the head and are not considered rude to keep on.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        The OP is male! He sent me a photo so I could see exactly what he was talking about (I love it when people send me photos or other visuals with their questions!) and I agree that the clothing isn’t likely to be a big concern and the only thing that will need a quick explanation is why he’s not taking off his hat.

        1. Myrin*

          Yeah, I remember the OP who sent in a picture of her tights and shoes and it was so good because we didn’t have to go “Um, what exactly do I need to envision here?”!

        2. Mrs. Fenris*

          Oh, that does clarify things! I was picturing the little white cap worn by Plain Dress women, which is not very noticeable and also appears to not be easily removed. The hat worn by men makes a lot more sense.

      2. Jessesgirl72*

        You are forgetting the men have the brimmed hats. Amish and Mennonite would remove them indoors, but he did indicate he is neither of those sects.

    4. MJH*

      Even the Amish remove their hats indoors. At least the men. I don’t know if OP is female or male, but it would be odd for Amish and Mennonite men to leave their hats on throughout an interview. If you’re talking female head coverings, those stay on all the time, but they’re also not called hats.

      1. ella*

        Quakers don’t, though. We don’t remove our hats to anyone except God. There has been conflicts about whether Quaker men should remove their hats before Meeting for Worship.

    5. Gandalf the Nude*

      I think the mitigating factor here may be that even a non-urban area might be that the plain dress community might be well-known to locals. For example, where I grew up, there was a sizable Amish population. We didn’t directly interact with them frequently, but they were so ubiquitous that no one batted an eye at seeing them in 7-11 with their dark suits, long dresses, and horse and buggy in the parking lot. The only judgment I might foresee with one showing up to an interview in plain dress would be surprise that they’d be comfortable working in a modern office.

      1. Jessesgirl72*

        Mennonites also wear plain dress, and almost always work out in the business world. I have a friend who is Mennonite and works in IT.

        1. ThatGirl*

          *some* Mennonites. Old Order Groups. I’m a “regular” Mennonite and have never dressed plainly.

          1. Religious Nutter*

            LW Here. It makes is so much harder to explain!

            “So everyone in your religion dresses like that?”
            “Well, no. Some do. Many dress like everyone else.”
            “So it’s a style thing?”
            “No, it’s a religious thing.”
            “But your religion doesn’t require it”
            “I… look, it’s complicated.”

              1. Religious Nutter*

                Exactly. People are really comfortable (or at least familiar) with the idea of religious laws. If a religion requires it, then the matter is easily settled and moved past.

                The idea that you might be doing something for a religious reason without the religion demanding it outright is really hard to explain in less than 3 paragraphs.

      2. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

        Yep. When I was working retail after college, we had a group of regulars from a (fairly strict, from my understanding) Mennonite community. Women in homemade prairie dresses and bonnets and all that. They were a pretty common sight around town — we were the closest town to them.

    6. caryatis*

      Yes! OP might need to work extra hard at showing that he can work with women, that he has a normal professional attitude, and that he is tech-savvy (if relevant to the job).

      1. Religious Nutter*

        LW here, and that’s definitely a concern. The only thing unusual about my professional attitude is that I tend to hold myself to extremely high standards of work. I don’t have any hangups about women in the workplace or issues with computers, but it’s tough to shoehorn either of those into an interview if I’m not being asked.

    7. Artemesia*

      Actually hat rules are different traditionally for men and women. Note that at graduations, the men remove their mortarboard for prayers etc and women don’t Women traditionally wore hats to tea or to church; men remove hats (except in Jewish temples and some other religious groups). Many religions still require women to cover their head; I was in Russia this fall and old churches often had baskets of scarves by the door for women who had not brought head coverings.

      It gets awkward when the hat is a baseball cap — which set of rules apply? But a woman’s religious hat would always properly be worn indoors.

      I realize that many people don’t approve of gendered rules of etiquette but that is a second issue.

    8. Anonymouse*

      I think it also depends on what part of the US you are in. In PA or OH people are going to associate the dress with Amish or Old Order Mennonite or similar. In the Rocky Mountains that style of dress will almost exclusively be associated with polygamist or fundamentalist Christian sects where there are a LOT of negative stereotypes.

        1. Jeanne*

          Here in PA, we are mostly pretty used to having many different sects of plain people. I think your coworkers will be curious for a week or two and then not care any more.

    9. Religious Nutter*

      LW here. You’re completely right about discrimination. People make a lot of assumptions about me. Luckily, my style of religious dress evokes the Amish (even though I’m not one). People assume I’m honest, hardworking, and tragically nieve about modern life.

      I AM honest and hardworking, but the last part can be a pretty damaging assumption. At least I don’t have to put up with the racism and negative stereotypes assigned to some other faiths in the US.

  13. Honeybee*

    …I mean, I think Fergus actually did mean to injure Niles. Perhaps not so badly that he needed to go to the hospital, but why else would you put a sharp implement on someone’s chair?

    1. Waterfalling*

      Yeah, I don’t see how this is a prank if the expected outcome is “Niles sees a pair of scissors on his chair”. Where’s the humor in that, exactly? It’s only “funny” (to certain people) if he does sit down on them.

      1. fposte*

        I had the same reaction initially, but then upon reflection I realized that Fergus could figured the reaction was going to be a mild “ooh, ouchie”–if you sit straight down on scissors flat on the chair you’re not likely to damage yourself much but it’ll be uncomfortable. (It’s still dumb, but not as dumb.) But if Niles sat hard or backed into the chair, that could be another matter.

        1. Waterfalling*

          But the OP says “apparently assuming Niles would see them before sitting”. If that was the assumption, how is it a prank?

          And if that wasn’t the assumption made by the “prankster”, why would the OP say it was?

    2. Gen*

      Yeah, it’s not like he left a pencil on his chair and he got stabbed by accident, he put a pair of blades on his chair. Unless they were those blunt kiddies scissors and Niles was very unlucky the likely outcome of leaving scissors where someone intends to sit is that they’ll get stabbed or cut. And considering all the delicate stuff in the sitting region it could have been really serious, not just blood loss but nerve damage, digestion, fertility, it could have been really awful. He’s demonstrated really really bad judgement. I don’t think I could comfortably work in close quarters with someone who couldn’t make the blades=dangerous connection (my toddler knows about scissors!)

    3. Oryx*

      The only other way to read it is some perceived possible threat of injury, like “Oh man, if Niles doesn’t look at his chair before sitting down he’s going to sit on these scissors!” which …. isn’t that funny.

        1. Nonprofit Nancy*

          Agree it was an odd joke to play. I suppose they thought it was an outlandish thing and would be immediately noticed, but it doesn’t seem particularly funny even if it had worked as intended.

    4. Not So NewReader*

      This is the problem with pranks it is very hard to ascertain intent. If the prankster seems sincerely shocked that someone got injured one has to wonder why the disconnect? How could the prankster not realize someone could be injured?

      All I can conclude is that some people have a very safety conscious mindset and others do not. I have worked with people who had some talking point about safety numerous times a day. These folks stood out in the group for their extra awareness. These are people who are the opposite end of the range from the pranksters.

    5. Rat in the Sugar*

      Nah, I think he was being clueless. I used to work in a restaurant where people would spike each other’s drinks with salt or hot sauce–and after somebody got Tabasco in his own, he poured some soapy water (it had a type of cleaner in it, not just soap) into someone else’s drink.
      Thankfully someone saw him do it and nobody drank it, but it was very obvious that my Fergus was just an idiot who didn’t think through the consequences of his actions and had to be told that even an accidental sip of that stuff could have hurt someone. He was obviously remorseful when he realized what the true extent of his “prank” might have been, and it sounds like OP’s Fergus reacted the same way.

      Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity.

      1. Lissa*

        100% agree with this. People can be *really* thoughtless and dumb in the moment. I’d argue that most people have done at least one extremely dumb thing in their lives where other people would be like “what is wrong with that person?” IMO we should definitely take into account how they respond to it after the fact, as well as the intent. I would be absolutely zero tolerance on anything like hazing in the workplace, but the OP says Niles and Fergus were friends, so I really think it’s unlikely that Fergus wanted to injure Niles and send him to the hospital.

    6. Alton*

      The only thing I can think of is that Fergus thought it would be really obvious that the scissors were there and that the joke was that it was a comically ridiculous “threat.” But it was pretty stupid since scissors are actually dangerous.

      1. Nonprofit Nancy*

        Thanks for articulating this better, that’s what I was trying to say above. A silly ‘threat’ comparable to putting, I don’t know, a broad sword on the chair as if it wouldn’t be noticed.

    7. neverjaunty*

      “He wasn’t malicious, just profoundly stupid” is not a huge improvement here.

      1. Marillenbaum*

        That’s an excellent point. It’s still very bad judgment, and it’s reasonable for that bad judgment to have consequences for the state of his employment–if not firing, then certainly a write-up (as OP mentioned).

      2. Mephyle*

        It makes sense that firing not be, as Alison said, a punishment, but a natural consequence of deciding that it no longer makes sense to keep an employee in the job.
        And it would be reasonable to decide that it no longer makes sense to keep an employee with such lack of common sense, respect for safety, and ability to think through the likely logical consequence of their actions.

      3. Not So NewReader*

        I usually put it as, “If you wish to continue working here, you MUST work safely. It’s not optional.”

        This sort of side steps whether the person is being mean or clueless.

  14. Michael*

    #1: We had something along those lines happen at work. A socially immature employee misread our culture of light pranking (e.g., a birthday cake with a sarcastic message) and thought it would be funny to stab a helium balloon while it was in someone’s arms, with a large pocket knife. The coworker holding the balloon legit panick-screamed and the allowable pranks were promptly clarified to exclude knives.

    This same person, earlier in the day, was stabbing loose balloons in someone else’s office. One of them was a water balloon and we got to watch them frantically try to mop up before the office-owner returned from lunch.

    So, if *that* person wasn’t fired…

    1. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

      ‘Office pranks should not involve knives’ seems like it would be pretty intuitive… oy.

    2. Jessesgirl72*

      Wow I can’t believe they weren’t fired. I worked with someone who, shortly after Easter, was trying to cut off a chunk of chocolate rabbit, balancing a plate on his own lap, and the knife slipped into his thigh and he needed a trip to the ER. He was almost fired, and he only stabbed himself! They cited worker’s comp and OSHA as the reasons.

      1. LQ*

        Wait, they fired someone for filing a worker’s comp claim? I’m not usually a jump to is that legal, but that sounds like retaliation for filing a worker’s comp claim which might actually not be something you’re supposed to do, especially if you actually cite filing for workers comp as the reason.

        1. Gandalf the Nude*

          I doubt he filed a worker’s comp claim for that; it wouldn’t likely count. I’d suspect it’s more of a, “If you’re that dumb with your food, I’m not sure I want you around X/Y/Z more dangerous workplace activity that could actually result in a worker’s comp claim.”

        2. Jessesgirl72*

          They didn’t fire him, they just wanted to and he ended up with a “last chance” write up in his file. And not for filing worker’s comp (he didn’t want to- but it was reported as a work injury, and OSHA got involved, etc….) but for breaking a rule (no weapons- and he was using a pocketknife, not a kitchen knife) at work that resulted in an injury.

        3. Newby*

          Would it count as retaliation for filing a worker’s comp claim or firing an employee whose negligence caused an injury? If someone else had been stabbed because of it, there would be no objections to firing the employee being careless with a knife.

      2. Emi.*

        I’m still hung up on the fact that he put a chocolate Easter bunny on a plate and tried to cut it up with a knife. Was I raised in a barn, or is this strange?

        1. fposte*

          I didn’t notice that until you mentioned. Yes, I’m definitely a bite-the-head-off kind of person.

        2. Jessesgirl72*

          We come from an area that still has solid chocolate bunnies. You can bite off the head, but you can NOT bite through the body. You can barely gnaw them!

          Plus, he was cutting some off to share!

          Which reminds me, I need to go see if now that it’s Lent, the one chocolatier has the Easter products up yet. I always order those solid bunnies and have them shipped to me now that I not longer live there!

    3. Sarah*

      This has me dying of laughter: ” the allowable pranks were promptly clarified to exclude knives.”

    4. A. Schuyler*

      My father’s team once filled his office with balloons in the colour of the local sports team, who had beaten my father’s preferred team the night before. I was sitting in his office at the end of the day (after everyone had left) and he went around popping them all. I was a bit alarmed by all the popping but at least none of them were water balloons and nobody was holding them at the time.

  15. Mookie*

    This boss’s preoccupation with the state of the LW’s uterus is honestly disturbing and hostile (not in a legal sense, yet), especially this intense need to know Right! Now! like people physically capable of being pregnant are forever in a pre-pregnant state and can only be classified as not / almost / most-definitely-pregnant / delivered-just-this-moment-and-now back-to-being-not-again. Does she treat others this way? How has she handled other pregnant team members?

  16. Mirax*

    I see a further problem with OP#2’s situation, though. The boss is ALREADY saying “we don’t know, maybe she’s pregnant right now” to coworkers. Given that OP IS pregnant, when she finally discloses that, Boss is going to feel validated in her bonkerballs paranoia because she was Right All Along, She WAS Pregnant and Hiding It!

    Which, again, is absolutely bonkers and puts OP in an absolutely awful situation–she shouldn’t have to manage her boss’s feelings like this. I wouldn’t encourage OP to leave now, because if she gets her health insurance through her employer she will need it, but if she doesn’t intend to be a SAHM then it might be a good idea to look for other jobs while she’s on mat leave.

    I definitely agree that looping in HR is wise because I think that once Boss knows that OP is pregnant she will not de-escalate–every twinge of morning sickness will be spun into “what if she has to go on mat leave early?” etc, plus the added layer of “I was right! She was pregnant all along!” As it’s a continuation of her existing behavior I’m not sure it’d be classified as retaliation for the complaint, though… but given how Boss already dwells on this topic, I don’t think OP would ever be able to live it down.

    1. Mookie*

      That’s a very vivid forecast, and I utterly agree with it. Argh, my commiserations with this one, LW. This boss’s behavior has been allowed to go on way too long (through no fault of your own, of course).

      1. Ugh*

        Yes, OP #1, seek HR help. Boss is not acting in a rational manner. You need back up and good boundaries. And maybe a new job after you deliver.

    2. committee member*

      Yes, keep the job and look for a new one eventually. I would also stop hinting about any future plans at all around your boss, unfortunately.

      My other concern about getting a new job before the baby comes is eligibility for FMLA or other maternity leave coverage.

      And, OP, congrats!

    3. Nonprofit Nancy*

      Yeah, it’s really too bad of the boss because there’s a cultural convention in the US at least that pregnant people are not “lying” or “hiding it” by not discussing their pregnancies until several months have passed (due to the risk of miscarriage, mostly) – and boss is trampling all over this. Now OP risks looks like an evil liar for not immediately reporting a blastocyte, and that’s on the boss for creating this culture.

  17. Kathlynn*

    I feel for LW #2.i think there are only a few reasons an employer/manager should ask about pregnancy and most if those involve mentioning going to the doctors and other possible health issues. (like if an employee has a really upset stomach or feels puking sick for a few weeks a “hey what’s up, have you seen a doctor about this” conversation might be necessary, and pregnancy as a possible result might come up. Or, if this wasn’t the first pregnancy and they have a symptom every time (like morning sickness) it might be possible to bring it up, if they seemed clueless as to why they were experiencing the symptoms (I’ve seen this happen).)

    1. Ugh*

      Assuming the employees are adults and have internet, I don’t think the boss should be “educating” employees about the signs of pregnancy. I said earlier that my boss asked me if I was pregnant when I had nausea from a migraine. It was not a good idea for my boss to do this; I like her, but I have an advance degree and know what the signs of pregnancy are AND I know if I am at risk for getting pregnant.

      It feels very condescending for a non-medical professional to try and “educate” a person that “that could be a sign of pregnancy!” I realize that the boss is likely trying to be helpful, BUT it puts the employee in a bad place. In my case, I had to tell my boss I was on fail-proof BC to get her off my back. What if someone had another reason to know they wouldn’t be pregnant that is more stigmatizing? Maybe the are a trans*woman or infertile due to a childhood illness or STD? Or maybe the boss disapproves of BC and the woman faces a hostile boss for saying she is on BC? The boss is placing subtle pressure on the report to give a reason why they know they aren’t pregnant. That is not ok.

      It would be ok to ask a frequently sick co-worker or employee if they have gone to the doctor and encourage them to do so if they haven’t. Anything beyond that is not ok.

      1. Murphy*

        Agreed. I think it’s OK to ask an employee if they are feeling ok, do they want to go home, etc., but not ok to ask specifically “Are you pregnant?” I’d be mad if I had a little stomach upset and someone jumped to asking me if I was pregnant.

      2. Kathlynn*

        I never said to educate the other person. Never said to grill the person or any of the sort. Or judge. Those are not okay.
        I said it almost completely should only come up in wellness conversations, where other issues could also be the cause. Not that it should be mentioned. Or even that you should press for details during the wellness conversation. Also, please double check my examples, because those are exactly the type of situations I was thinking of. Not a one lone incidence of nausea or the other examples you gave. Those would be the times it’s not okay to ask or mention pregnancy. To make it very clear: I was talking about situations where a person has been sick for *weeks*, and the boss might want to suggest they go to the doctor if they haven’t. And sometimes employees will talk about what they are dealing with, and maybe talk about what it might be. Mentioning pregnancy off handed, along with other possible causes would not be harmful. The other example was mentioning Pregnancy directly if the employee has worked with the boss long enough that the boss knows what the employee experiences for pregnancy symptoms. Because sometimes the obvious is missed, or seems extremely unlikely (condoms sometimes fail, even if you’ve only have sex once. Which happened to someone I know. Took her weeks to realize she wasn’t down with a cold or flu.)

        1. Bananistan*

          No. I am a woman who gets nauseous a lot. I am NOT pregnant, and if my boss tried to have a “wellness conversation” with me, I’d be disgusted.

        2. Kj*

          I do not want wellness conversations with my boss. I like my boss. But I am an adult who is capable of finding health information myself. Unless there is a workplace issue, I don’t want her to ask about my wellness. Going home sick should not prompt a wellness conversation. If I was sick for weeks and using up sick leave she can address it that way. If my boss isn’t my doctor, she doesn’t need to try and figure out what is wrong with me. I might know and not want to tell her for some reason and that is my right. She should not pry.

    2. Mrs. Fenris*

      I did this once. I worked with a young girl who, well, didn’t totally have her act together. She mentioned one morning that she wasn’t feeling well…she was pale and nauseous and the smells in our workplace were so much stronger than normal. I blurted out, “Oh, Jane, I know what was bothering me when *I* felt like that.” A couple of days later she was like, “um…guess what?”

    3. Not So NewReader*

      This bothers me that the assumption for everything is pregnancy. Years ago, I blacked out. I was rushed to the hospital. The ONLY thing they did was a pregnancy test. They told me I was not pregnant (which I already knew) and pushed me out the door. So much for getting “care”.

      From my perspective I see this assumption going on everywhere. It’s pretty narrow thinking, in my opinion. The answer to everything that happens to a woman is not always pregnancy related.

  18. Mac the Knife*

    No. 5, I’ve been a quota-filling candidate myself. A PAC attached to a branch of a Big Ten university called me in for a job already knowing whom they planned to hire. I could sense it during the interview. Then sthe next day, I heard that my office, an ad agency, got a call from their ringer, a candidate who said she already had the job.

    Meanwhile, I wasted an entire day of my time.

    This practice is more likely to occur in large companies and government agencies.

  19. Katie the Fed*

    #2 – I’m dealing with something very similar with my boss. Actually, I’m a woman of a certain age so I deal with it from a lot of people, but I digress…

    I suspect in my boss’s case it’s something she thinks we can bond over. I had mentioned a while ago that my husband and I were trying, and it’s been slow going. I wish I hadn’t. She’s asked a couple times, but in a way that almost reminds me of my mother-in-law – not naggy, just hoping there’s news.

    I did finally say to her “I’ll let you know if there’s something to report, but it’s so stressful when people ask, ya know?” and she stopped.

  20. Sled dog mama*

    #5 it’s worth noting that you can find out a lot about culture at the places you apply to by, when called to set up the interview, telling the person that you have been burned in the past by a company that was using you to fill out an interview quota and now shave a personal policy of inquiring prior to accepting an in person interview.
    And a reasonable employer inst going to have an interview quota they are going to realize that you might find the right person in the first interview so continuing is pointless. They also aren’t going to invite you unless you are a serious candidate.

    1. RP*

      I work in an industry that has practices in place that make it hard to just hire an internal candidate. I believe part of the practice is to be transparent and fair as we are a non-profit. But if the role exists we can do an internal search only but if the role is new or newly created we have to post for 30 days. This can includes title changes of already existing roles – such as Coordinator of teapots to Asst Director of teapots. HR screens applicants for our set minimums (education, years experience, software, etc.) then if there are a significant number of qualified applicants we must interview. It is the worst. Especially when we have great employees who will leave if we can’t give them a new role and responsibilities to improve their career.

      1. Sled dog mama*

        But you can be transparent with external applicants in this process, and if one says “I have been burned by this in the past” you can answer their questions honestly.
        My perspective may also be skewed because I’m in a career/far enough into my career that if I’m invited for an on site interview the company is paying travel, lodging and maybe food expenses.

    2. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Oh gosh, I would not do that. For the vast majority of employers who don’t do this to candidates, it’s going to come across fairly strangely. And for the small number who do, they may not answer that question honestly anyway (or the person setting up the interview may be a junior person who has no idea).

    3. BPT*

      Yeah, this is going to seem weirdly adversarial. Bad companies won’t tell you they have a quota anyway, and those are the ones you want to screen out. Plus, not that I’m doubting your take on your past experiences, but for every person that has only been brought in because of a quota, there’s probably someone who was brought in to sincerely be interviewed but wasn’t hired, and so just assumed they weren’t being fairly treated. So if someone told me they had been “burned in the past” by this, I wouldn’t necessarily believe them (I would assume it’s rare that a company outright tells you you’re only a quota fill), and I wouldn’t really trust their judgment on the matter.

  21. LuvzALaugh*

    Isn’t #1 a work comp case even if the pranking employee offers to pay the medical bills? I think letting the prankster know if they have caused a recordable injury and I am not 100 percent sure but I don’t think the employee can offer to pay.

    1. NoMoreMrFixit*

      Normally workplace injuries are investigated. And doctors are supposed to notify the appropriate government agencies for these situations. Of course this depends on the specific laws in place where this went down. But yes it’s quite possible a government agency type could poke their nose into this situation.

      FWIW most of the places I worked had policies about workplace violence, whether intentional or a prank, and this could easily have gotten the offender fired on the spot no matter how good a performer or previous track record.

    2. Jessesgirl72*

      Yes. When I was 18 and working in the university library, our supervisors were VERY clear and strict that any pranks or horseplay, and specifically riding around on the library carts, was cause for immediate termination because of worker’s comp. They explained that even though there were rules against it, if someone got hurt while doing it, the university still had to pay, so they had to have a zero tolerance policy about it.

    3. krysb*

      Technically, yes, if workers’ comp in the specific state is like my state, where strict liability doesn’t have to be proven, but the injury has to be considered as taking place “during the course and scope of work.” Normally the burden for this is simply being at work (to keep it simple, there are other possible considerations when determining course and scope of work), but in this case, the company could make the argument that this injury is wholly unrelated to work, or, alternatively, it can allow a case to be made, then file suit against the perpetrator to reclaim its costs. However, making the assumption that there is no long-term disability related to this injury, the costs would be the medical costs, not for wage payments.

    4. Construction Safety*

      Definitely a WC case.
      Recordability is a little trickier as this was a deliberate act of an employee and depending on the actual care the ‘stabbee’ received, e.g., a tetanus shot is not recordable but any other RX or stitches would be.
      We would almost certainly terminate the employee.
      Strike 1 – Horseplay (specifically addressed in our employee manual)
      Strike 2 – Likely potential for injury (if Fergus just set them on the seat of the chair, how likely is it that: a) Niles would not see them; b) that they would stab him; or c) is that really any level of prank? Did Fergus kind of wedge them in the seat/back area where they were sticking up (less likely to be seen and more likely to injure)?
      Strike 3 – Niles was injured and there was property damage (they had to throw out the chair)

    5. neverjaunty*

      Whether or not Nils puts in a claim, likely the company has to report the injury to its insurer.

      1. Not So NewReader*

        It’s amazing what insurance companies can make their insureds do. I would not be surprised if this company got some feedback from its insurance company telling them they had to do certain things if they wished to remain insured.

        I think that people are missing this point. It could work out that the boss has no choice but to fire the prankster, no matter how the boss and others think about the situation.

  22. Oryx*

    I know the question of pranks in the office posts sometimes turns into a pro-prank v. anti-prank conversation and I have always been on the anti-prank side of things (both personally and professionally). But reading this particular post, it occurs to me that I think I can track my anti-prank sentiments to second grade when some idiot in my class decided to leave an upturned thumb tack on my chair which I then sat on.

    That was not a fun day.

    So, this might be blinding my bias here but I’m not entirely sure what Fergus’s intentions were with leaving a blade on the chair of his co-worker other than possible injury. I don’t know if they are necessarily “malicious,” but maybe someone who IS into pranks could perhaps explain what motivation there could be behind the prank that would be appreciated by both parties if Niles happened to look at his chair and see a pair of scissors there cause I’m just not getting it.

    1. Bow Ties Are Cool*

      Pranks involving bladed/pointy things are never appropriate, in the office or out.

      That said, your coworker leaving their computer unlocked and coming back to the “Blue Screen of Death” screensaver? Comedy gold. Also over the instant they move the mouse, so no harm done to anything but their heart rate.

  23. RP*

    #5 – this happened to me recently as well. I had a company on the other side of a country (that I was really excited for) offer a first round 45 minute screening interview in person. They told me they only had a $500 budget to fly me out for the whole process. (including a final round if I moved on). I pushed back and asked for a skype interview because of the expense and time. They pushed back and eventually I said I wouldn’t be able to fly out – then they offered me a skype. I got a final round interview but I saw on my email from HR – all my documents said the word EXTERNAL CANDIDATE in big letters. This was a big red flag but I flew out, had what I thought was a great interview. By the time I got home the next day and I received an automated rejection email from HR . I tried to follow up but got nothing after two emails I stopped. Two months later I look online and see they hired an internal candidate – who I noticed was missing from my interview. I was applying for a Director job and one of the Associate Directors was not present.

  24. Workfromhome*

    #5 I don’t have advice on how to screen out interviews that will cost you $ but are not serious. However if it were me and I paid my way to go to an interview and the HR rep flat out told me in the Interview” You are only here to fill an interview quota” I’d respond like this:

    “I’m glad I could be of service to fill your quota. MY daily rate for quota filling is xx$ and my expenses are XX$ should I send the bill to you directly to your accounts payable? “

      1. fposte*

        Are you responding to Mel? The details really aren’t different enough. You can’t bill people for a service they haven’t agreed to pay you for.

        1. Elizabeth*

          Not after the service is already provided. But when they are asking you to provide a service, it is entirely appropriate to tell them what it will cost. In this case, that might cheese them off enough to blacklist you, so it’s still probably not a good idea. But it’s not the same thing as deciding after the fact to send a random bill.

  25. Emi.*

    For #1, I think it only makes sense to fire Fergus if you would also have fired him just for putting the scissors there even if Niles hadn’t sat on him and gotten injured.

    1. Mephyle*

      The lack of judgement involved in putting scissors on the chair is enough to call into question Fergus’s judgement in all spheres, including his job performance. But if Niles had spotted the scissors before sitting down, taken it in the pranky spirit that it was intended, and nothing had happened, you might never have found out.

  26. Bad Candidate*

    #5 I find quota interviews annoying in general. Even if I’m not traveling, I’m likely using PTO for the interview.

    1. Nonprofit Nancy*

      Agree, although looking back at some interviews that were probably just quota-filling, I did have a bit of a lightbulb; I was a local candidate and that’s probably why they asked me to come in even though it seemed clear they were never going to hire me. I wondered at the time why they bothered when it seemed like a clear skills mismatch after talking to them. I suppose that’s better than asking someone to fly across the country for a fake interview.

      1. Bad Candidate*

        My husband used to be a manager at Blockbuster and he said that he would sometimes do this to give new managers/assistant managers practice at interviewing. At his current job, in IT, in an office, sometimes they will interview internal candidates even if they’ve identified a different internal one they want. The job is posted externally because that’s their policy, but they don’t interview external candidates. I guess in that case no one is traveling or burning PTO but I know it cost them at least one employee who got turned down for two jobs in a row because he didn’t know there was already someone lined up for one of them.

        1. Nonprofit Nancy*

          IMO this is a silly side effect of what was supposed to be a real policy against croneyism. If you’re interviewing external candidates, you should resolve to take them seriously, not “pretend” to interview them! You can still end up resolving your internal candidate was the best fit, but do the others the courtesy of really considering them. Having said that, I did once beat out the intended internal candidate for a job, so I can’t complain.

  27. Applesauced*

    #1 is why the best office pranks are either none or mush more light hearted.
    My favorite office prank was covering a coworker’s new desk and stuff in photos of corgies when we moved desks during her vacation. And I mean COVERING – inside drawers, covering all her USB ports, and my piece de resistance – a corgie butt over the sensor on the optical mouse.

    1. Marillenbaum*

      Corgis! They are my most favorite little dogs. That’s a genuinely adorable joke. And if any of my coworkers are reading this, you are all more than welcome to surprise me with corgis any time. Any time at all.

    2. Lablizard*

      I only prank with co-workers I know well and who I know would enjoy pranking me back. For example, a co-worker and I have been sticking pieces of licorice (red for me, black for him) in random parts of each other’s workspaces because we had The Great Licorice Debate of 2012. (he thinks black licorice is gross and I think red licorice is an abomination). Harmless, we find it funny, and it doesn’t bother any of our co-workers

  28. University of Trantor*

    OP #3: People who are open to connecting with random strangers on LinkedIn usually make a prominent note of this on their LinkedIn profile, with language like “open networker” or “LION” (LinkedIn Open Networker). Since you presumably didn’t put this anywhere in your profile, you shouldn’t feel bad declining random networking requests or paring down your current connections list. I can’t imagine there are many jobs where the number of LinkedIn connections you have, regardless of the quality of those connections, has much influence over hiring decisions.

    I’d argue the value of a LinkedIn connection who you don’t know outside of LinkedIn is minimal. Even if the person is well-connected in the industry, what kind of well-networked expert is going to vouch for a random stranger for anything meaningful? If you’re doing cold B2B sales solicitations, I guess have a cite-able “in” at the target company might help a little, but there’s also a good possibility it’ll just creep out the recipient.

    Something to keep in mind for those who do want to connect with strangers on LinkedIn: If too many people (5+ in a month or so, I believe) ignore/decline your connection request AND then mark your request as spam or “I don’t know this person” you will be banned temporarily (or permanently, in extreme cases/repeated offenses) from sending out more connection requests without adding the recipient’s email address.

    OP #5: Is it atypical for your field to hire out-of-town folks for the position/title you’re looking for? In my field, non-exempt and lower-level exempt positions generally won’t pay interview travel expenses. Many will certainly entertain applications from non-locals for these positions, but there is generally a sufficient local pool to preclude the need for pay for interview travel. At higher-level exempt positions, it’s a lot more common to pay for interview travel, and later, moving expenses.

    As another Mac the Knife mentioned, large companies, government, and public entities (like schools) are more likely to have a hiring quota rule requiring that a minimum of X candidates be interviewed for a position.

  29. Important Moi*

    Alison I have a question about Letter #1:

    In your response you say “And if Niles has medical bills, Fergus should offer to pay them.”

    Can the company order Fergus to pay? Or are you just saying that ethically Fergus should offer?

    If Fergus and Niles have addressed this off-line OP wouldn’t necessarily know. (My read of the letter is that Fergus and Niles are friends, but I concede, I could be wrong about that.)

  30. No name for this*

    If Niles’ femoral artery had been severed he would have bled to death before help arrived. Someone else could have been hurt if they sat in the chair. If worked there, I would be nervous and anxious about being caught in the middle of or hurt in a prank. Fergus showed exceedingly poor judgement here.

  31. overcaffeinatedandqueer*

    Religious dress person: It’s not the dress that’s the problem, but rather how being quite religious in that manner might affect perceptions of you.

    Personally, I’m wary of most Catholics, and conservative evangelical types. Those kinds of people and their churches actively campaigned against my rights during my state’s marriage amendment fight (and I was also just starting to date my now-wife then, which made it hurt more), and even now continue to support conversion therapy and religious freedom initiatives. I just assume them, and most other very religious types, are against me. Probably not entirely right, but it’s kept me from getting into arguments or, worst case scenario, getting beaten up. I recognize it’s a sort of bias, though a valid defense.

    So the issue with the religious dress guy is someone thinking that you don’t like others; I would still interview him, but ask whether and how he got on with women and LGBT people and such in previous work contexts (can you do that?)

    1. neverjaunty*

      Can you do that? If you want to invite a lawsuit, I guess.

      Assuming anyone with a visible religious practice is sexist and anti-LGBT is not only cringeworthy but is going to lead you to make serious mistakes. You’ll turn away the devout Catholic or Quaker who is deeply involved in social justice activism as a result of their faith, but you’ll miss the atheist who can talk your ear off about how evolutionary biology means bigotry is natural.

    2. Janey*

      Some other religions besides Catholicism and evangelical Christians also are against gay marriage. Interesting you did not mention them.

      Also not all Christians are anti-gay marriage. If you judged me based solely on my religion I would be wary of you.

      1. overcaffeinatedandqueer*

        True, but I have no experience with other religious groups using their political capital to discriminate, or yelling on street corners about it.

        1. Janey*

          I’m sure you don’t want to be stereotyped and discriminated against because you are gay. You should give people you don’t know the same treatment. If you haven’t known them to discriminated or yell on corners, there is no reason to judge them based on the actions of others.

        2. neverjaunty*

          Most of the “very religious types” who belong to anti-LGBT sects do not wear visible religious dress that differs from the mainstream.

        3. ThatGirl*

          Mormons in California actively campaigned for Prop 8.

          That doesn’t make all Mormons bad people.

          1. fposte*

            More to the point, it doesn’t make Mormons bad office managers, engineers, or development personnel who can’t work respectfully with their colleagues.

            1. neverjaunty*

              It doesn’t even make all Mormons anti-LGBT.

              By the way, in the wake of Proposition 8, there was a lot of misinformation suggesting that African-Americans disproportionately supported it. So a ton of white LGBT people decided that gave them a free pass to be openly and loudly racist because ‘why should we support their rights when they don’t support ours?’

              1. AD*

                So a ton of white LGBT people decided that gave them a free pass to be openly and loudly racist because ‘why should we support their rights when they don’t support ours?’

                This is a bit of a stretch (it’s anecdata) and is potentially going to spiral this conversation away from what’s helpful to the OP.

      2. PK*

        By the same logic, if we were judged based solely on our orientation (which happens far more often with religious conservatives), we should be wary as well. It goes both ways.

    3. AnotherAlison*

      There is a lot of your own prejudice coming through in your comment. I don’t know what has happened to you in your past, but not every AAM post is about you being gay. This guy’s freedom from discrimination is just as important as yours.

      1. Temperance*

        I think this is a pretty unkind comment, and not really fair or accurate. In this context, she’s sharing her personal experiences.

      2. Religious Nutter*

        LW here. Yes, her freedom from discrimination IS just as important as mine.

        There’s a lot of complexity to these issues, and I don’t believe it’s fair to downplay the lived experiences of our fellow commenters. Growing up gay in America can be a miserable experience sometimes.

    4. fposte*

      “Personally, I’m wary of most Catholics, and conservative evangelical types.”

      While that may be your personal feeling, it’s illegal to hire like that, and as a manager I would at the very least bounce you from hiring committees if I knew that were the case, and if I found out in retrospect that you had done that I might well fire you.

      It is absolutely acceptable to ask your candidates questions about supporting the mission of the organization, availability on weekends, etc.. Save for specific religious organizations and offices too small to be covered by federal law, it is not legal to consider somebody less suited for your opening because of what you think of their faith.

    5. Jessesgirl72*

      You’re a lawyer, right? Ask one of the partners at your firm that question, and see how far away they keep you from any hiring, ever!

      And just on a moral note, discrimination and stereotyping is wrong, period. For religious reasons, as well as for sexual orientation. Every “Ist” I’ve ever hear of also had reasons- some of them even factual- to excuse and defend their bigotry.

    6. Morning Glory*

      Honestly, I think this is really variable like neverjaunty says, and because religion is a protected class you could get into trouble. It would be like a Christian who assumes a Muslim candidate follows sharia law.

      1. An American Muslim*

        I know your comment is meant kindly, and I thank you for that. However, as a Muslim I have to say I feel very uncomfortable with a lot of the dialogue surrounding shariah in the West. So, please excuse the mild tangent while I describe what shariah is. There are two major branches of shariah: interaction with God (ibadat) and interaction with society (muamilat). All daily worship is guided by the first category: ibadat. Therefore, almost any practicing Muslim “follows shariah” when they pray, fast, pay obligatory alms, make pilgrimage, or engage in other acts of worship.

        OK, digression over. My advice to OP#4, as a practicing Black Muslim woman who covers her hair, is that discrimination will be an unavoidable part of your life, for the most part. When people first meet you, they will automatically make several assumptions about your faith, your beliefs, and what kind of person you are. I am only at the beginning of my career, but I assume the reality is that for the rest of my life I will be fighting these sorts of assumptions in my career and in my personal life. It is just the reality of things at this time. However, it is not all bad news. In my experience, most people are sort of benignly racist/any kind of “ist” (I am lucky enough to have several “ists” to sample from!). They’re willing to talk to me, and as they get to know me hopefully some of their preconceived notions are challenged. So, I think people will judge you but I don’t think that has to hold you back. Best of luck!

        1. Morning Glory*

          You are right, I apologize. I actually knew that, and blew the wording on this statement anyway.

          1. An American Muslim*

            No problem at all! Even lots of Muslims get this stuff wrong, so it’s totally understandable.

          1. Katie the Fed*

            To clarify my own comment – I appreciate people willing to educate others on concepts so frequently misunderstood like shariah. It must be exhausting and I’m grateful to those who are willing to do it, and those willing to listen with open minds :)

        2. Religious Nutter*

          LW here,

          I’ve been in the professional world for quite a while, so I can definitely echo your sentiment. People judge me based on my appearance. Really, I have it pretty easy, the modern American political climate has turned frightening and ugly. You have a much rougher time getting past stereotypes than I do.

          I wrote to Allison in the hope of getting some ideas for dealing with stereotypes in a hiring context, as it’s an unusual social dynamic, and I haven’t needed to navigate it in a while.

          1. emma2*

            If anything, overcaffeinatedandqueer’s comment confirms that people making judgments on your dress is a possibility. My own observation is that HM’s are risk averse when it comes to candidates that seem too unusual or against the norm. On the other hand, many are very aware of being tolerant, and if you just explained about the headdress for religious purposes, they would respect that.

    7. Rat in the Sugar*

      No Catholic I’ve ever spoken to supported conversion therapy, it’s not condoned by any priest I’ve ever met. And many of us in the Church support the LGBTQIA+ community; I myself support an organization called Dignity USA that specifically supports members of the community in the Catholic Church.

      I totally understand your personal feelings and I’m not trying to say that you have to be friends with or even friendly with a member of any church that has made you feel unsafe or even just unwelcome, but when it comes to the workplace that’s legally considered discrimination, and you run the risk of missing out on the best candidate for the job due a (totally understandable) personal bias.

      1. overcaffeinatedandqueer*

        I had not heard of that org, that’s neat! (I thought it was just Jesuits that focused more on social justice and not being anti-things? Then again, I’m a progressive Lutheran so what do I know).

        I don’t hire, but if I did, I would be aware of how the things I’ve experienced affect my perception. After all, a lot of people don’t realize their bias, or just have a bias without personal experiences that caused it. I think no one should ever have full hiring authority, to screen out discrimination.

        1. fposte*

          Honestly, o., somebody who believes what you stated or holds similarly discriminatory views wouldn’t be allowed to have *any* hiring authority in a lot of places–it’s just too big a liability risk for the organization.

        2. neverjaunty*

          Okay, so this really isn’t about being wary of religious groups that might be anti-LGBT, it’s about stereotyping Christian groups other than your own?

          1. neverjaunty*

            And also, what fposte said. If Jane said that she was wary of hiring First Nations people, I doubt anybody would say oh, well, we just need to make sure other people have input into hiring decisions too.

        3. Emilia Bedelia*

          I don’t think “being aware” of your bias gives you a free pass to have it. Being aware of your bias should be the first step in getting past it- it should not be the stopping point where you throw up your hands and say “well, guess I’m biased! too bad for all the Catholics!”.

          “Personal experience” is a cop-out- that’s the same justification that people use to say things like “All the lesbians I know hate men” and “I wouldn’t hire a female truck driver because all the women I know are terrible drivers”. And frankly, you are now fueling other people’s personal experiences that “All the gay people I know hate religion and are prejudiced against religious people”

          1. Newby*

            The whole idea behind checking your bias is that if you have a negative reaction to someone and know that they fit into a group you are biased against, you can take a step back and evaluate whether rejecting them is based on good reasons or your bias. It isn’t so that you can actively work your bias into the interview.

          2. Anon for this*

            Yep. Overcaffeinated has also said in other threads that she’s a Christian herself. I’m sure there are LGBT people who have had bad experiences with her own denomination (not assuming her faith promotes homophobia, just saying there are jerks in any given group of people) – does that give them a free pass to assume that she’s a homophobe or transphobe?

            Besides that, I’ve had a lot of bad experience with homophobia justified by one religion, which is also the religion that most people where I live follow. I would be unable to work anywhere at all if I assumed all of that faith’s followers were homophobes.

          3. Elizabeth West*

            No she’s not. One of my oldest friends is gay and does all the music for her church. I know better than to assume all my gay friends think that. And I’m sure I’m not the only one.

      2. Mazzy*

        Totally agreed. Also another world religion has a history of homophobia as well. Do we really want to open the can of words and homophobia and religious history on a work blog when it wasn’t even part of the OPs question, is specially given how large percentages of said religions don’t hold homophobic views?

    8. Allison*

      I’ll admit I’d be wary about a very religious candidate as well, for slightly different reasons. I’d worry they wouldn’t respect the women in the office, they may expect women to do a lot of the cleaning and admin work, and may even suggest to the women that they should be quieter, more feminine, dress more conservatively, show the hard working men more respect, or find a husband and assume their proper role in the household.

      To be clear, I wouldn’t decline to hire someone just because they’re religious, because it is illegal and unfair (a concern is not the same thing as an assumption) but I may try to talk about the women they’d be working with and gauge their reaction, perhaps even make sure one of his interviewers is a woman, and if I did hire them I’d keep an eye on how they interact with female colleagues.

      1. overcaffeinatedandqueer*

        Exactly. I’d probably hire them anyway if they didn’t say offensive things in the interview, and had no social media history of bigotry, but I would watch how he interacted with me and other LGBT people and women.

        1. Observer*

          Because very religious people can’t be trusted but non-religious people are just great.

          1. Anon for this*

            Not sure why you’re assuming Overcaffeinated isn’t religious.

            Anyway, as an agnostic, I can confirm we’re not saints. :)

            1. Observer*

              Overcaffeintaed makes it clear that she is not “very religious” (and would discriminate against “very religious” people because they are discriminatory.)

      2. fposte*

        A concern is close enough to an assumption that somebody with a prejudicial concern should absolutely not be allowed in hiring, though.

        And you can’t hire somebody and then discriminatorily monitor them.

        1. Sarah*

          Well, but in fairness, ANY employee who is treating his/her coworkers in a sexist or homophobic way can and should be called out for it and disciplined. If the employee does not do any of that, there won’t be any concern, will there?

          1. fposte*

            I’m not following–Allison and overcaffeinatedandqueer are saying that they have the concern *before* they know about the behavior. I’m saying that if you expressed a view to me that you were concerned that people in X legally protected group were particularly likely to be a problem, I would exclude you from making decisions about hiring. And if I caught you monitoring employees in X group because of this bias, HR would get looped in and your job might well be in danger.

      3. Morning Glory*

        I think you should do that with all candidates, not just the religious ones. If you’re only watching for sexism in religious people, you’re going to feel vindicated every time you see it, and become more convinced you are right.

        Like a store clerk following around black people and becoming more smug with every shoplifting – never noticing the white people stealing things (or an atheist gamergate bro who’s sexist).

        1. Newby*

          I agree. I think that if the concern is how a new employee would behave around women or LGBT people, have them be a part of the interview and actually see how the candidate behaves (and do this for everyone). If their actual behavior raises red flags that is entirely different than assuming all Catholics are sexist bigots.

        2. Jessie the First (or second)*

          Yup, this is how confirmation bias works. We are on the lookout for facts and examples that support the conclusions we have already made, thereby retroactively feeling justified in our conclusions. But all the while, we have been acting in ways designed to seek out confirming facts and examples. So here, o. is saying she’d monitor closely people she thinks are religious to find out if they harbor sexism (for example). Well, sexism is hugely prevalent in our society so undoubtedly, she would find it – and think “aha! I was write about Catholics!” But again, sexism is prevalent, so would likely show up in non-Catholics (or whatever group the person being so closely watched is part of).

          Basically, scrutinizing one person because of the feelings you have about the church to which they belong is not only a legal problem, but it also does not prove what you think it proves.

          1. Religious Nutter*

            This is a really excellent counterpoint. Checking for sexism is a good idea in general, and it makes sense to integrate it into your hiring process for all candidates, not just ‘suspicious’ ones.

        3. AnonAcademic*

          Yes, unfortunately sometimes members of a disadvantaged community still have biases against other people they see as lower down the ladder than them. Trans and biphobia in the gay community is one example. Bigotry is everywhere especially where you look for it. It would be a mistake, ethically and from a hiring standard, to not look just because a candidate is a POC, LGBT, immigrant, etc.

      4. neverjaunty*

        So your plan is to cling to unfair stereotypes at work in order to avoid hiring anyone who follows unfair stereotypes at work? Are you listening to yourself?

      5. Observer*

        You know, your worry simply doesn’t have any thing to do with reality. Women are penalized for being “too aggressive” as much by totally secular people people as by religious people.

        As for the other stuff – it doesn’t match any of the religious men I know at all. I hear about this more from people who stereotype than from anyone else.

      6. knitting fiend*

        As a counterpoint ~ there are plain Quakers, and Quakers have been for gender equality since they started… in the mid 17th century! So making assumptions about those plainly dressed and how they view gender roles would be quite wrong in their case.

        Given the not taking the hat off indoors, it’s quite possible the LW#4 is Quaker, as plain Quakers traditionally only took their hats off only for God ~ which went over about as well as you would expect with 17th century English magistrates the Quakers had been hauled in front of for other reasons :-(

      7. Trudy*

        I’m new here and from the UK, so maybe I’m missing something but I’ve seen the words “Hostile Workplace” thrown around here a lot and it certainly sounds like that’s what you’d be setting up for your new employee.

        What would you be looking to achieve by talking to the women they’d be working with? Are you planning to give them a heads up that the new hire is religious and so we’re concerned about potential sexist behaviour from them?

        Have you heard of the concept of a self fulfilling prophesy because this sounds like the perfect recipe for exactly that.

        And then monitoring them especially closely because of their religious beliefs, again, that sounds highly distasteful.

    9. Princess Carolyn*

      FWIW, a large number of Catholics are not on the same page when it comes to marriage equality and a lot of other social issues. Growing up, all the Catholics I knew were liberal, but it was kind of a liberal town – I only found out about conservative Catholics when I moved to a more conservative place. I hate that you have to worry about these things, but I get it. :(

      As for the OP, there’s not much you can do about other people’s biases, so it doesn’t make sense to worry about how interviewers might perceive a religious person.

      1. Temperance*

        I honestly had the opposite experience – I grew up in a very conservative area, and most of the Catholic people that I knew/know are very hard right on social issues. I was honestly confused when I found out about Catholics for Choice and other liberal groups.

        I do have to admit that I was very happy surprised to see a gaggle of nuns at a liberal event I attended last week. So cool.

        1. overcaffeinatedandqueer*

          Yes, that’s my experience. I had Catholics whose priests were told to pray for a same sex marriage ban, and my childhood neighbor was completely disowned when she came out on her 19th birthday. She had to drop out of college, and did not receive any family help when her car developed brake problems that were so bad it was dangerous to drive- but she had to anyway, to get to work to GET money to fix it. She could have died. Her parents didn’t care.

          1. TL -*

            And I have Catholic friends who came out to their conservation Catholic parents and there parents were supportive and loving and fiercely defended them to the community at large to help them be accepted.

            Your friend’s problem wasn’t that her parents were Catholic. It was that they were bad people.

            1. SimonTheGreyWarden*

              More specifically, it is that they used Catholicism to justify abhorrent behavior.

              I’m a somewhat-practicing Catholic cishet woman, married to an somewhat-agnostic, somewhat-theist dude who has really no interest in religion at all, and I actually have an advanced degree in Catholic theology (which is merely said to indicate why the practicing went from “very” to “somewhat” as I do have issues with some of the institutional practices and such). During the 2012 election the US Council of Catholic Bishops reiterated that there are five criteria about which a Catholic has to evaluate a politician in order to vote in accordance with Church beliefs. I’m at work on a quick break and don’t have time to search, but they included sanctity of marriage, anti abortion, anti stem-cell research I think, social justice, and something else. I do not consider myself a believer in any political party though my leanings are decidedly more left and I am involved in social justice issues. Essentially, by that criteria, one could not ethically vote Democrat and be in accord with the Church, but there was not a snowball’s chance I’d vote Republican. I actually spent a lot of time wrestling with what my conscience told me vs what my church told me, and then I contacted one of the priests from my grad program. I typed out this huge long email where I described my thoughts, and I received two sentences back from him: I’m voting for Obama. Vote your conscience.

              ‘Catholicism’ is a huge, huge umbrella, and because of that you can have within the same community Catholics on both sides of the fence on any issue. Some are very conservative and would go back to Latin mass in a heartbeat (or already have, in some places), while other churches openly have support groups for LGTBQA youth (the church near us, on a university campus, does).

              Catholicism also has its share of people who hide behind doctrine and dogma in order to spew hateful and hurtful messages. But, if I’m not supposed to believe that Westb0r0 B@ptist church speaks for all Baptists, then I also can believe that one – or a dozen, or whatever – Catholics speak for every member of the Faith.

              1. Elizabeth West*

                This is pretty accurate. I was raised in a strictly Roman Catholic home, and I left the Church because of the overarching misogyny. It never made sense to me that I couldn’t use birth control even if I were married. I mean, I wanted to have kids, but not 97 of them. Over time, it just didn’t feel like the right place for me.

          2. the other Emily*

            When my brother came out and announced his engagement, both my family and the family of his now husband (Italian Catholics) banded together and threw them the most beautiful wedding I have ever seen. His husband’s devoutly Catholic great-grandfather got certified to legally perform weddings so he could officiate the marriage. The only person who ever said anything wasn’t family, it was my dad’s co-worker when he found out about the engagement. This man was a devout atheist who disowned his daughter for being a lesbian.

            But yeah, all Catholics hate gays and all non religious people don’t.

          3. Ask a Manager* Post author

            But you’re presumably aware that that they don’t speak for all Catholics, no? And that there are loads of liberal Catholics, like the Catholic Workers, Plowshares, etc.?

            It’s really not okay to reinforce stereotypes here, just like it wouldn’t be okay to say that all the people of race X that you know are Y. Let’s move on from this line of debate, because it’s not cool.

          4. PollyQ*

            Yes, the way she was treated was awful, no question, BUT

            1) You simply cannot pre-judge people based on their religion in the workplace. It is illegal and immoral, and as all the counter-examples show, not even effective.

            2) Unless your company works in some kind of advocacy, support, or social justice work, I would argue that their attitudes are not even relevant to their job. IF those employees show themselves to have issues with proper workplace behavior and respect for all their colleagues, THEN there’s a problem to be addressed, but to simply assume that they will have problems is absurd, prejudicial, and ignores the sludge of the various -isms that we’re ALL tracking in on our feet.

    10. PK*

      I’m wary of overly conservative religious folks for the same reason. I know it’s a stereotype but there comes a point where you have to look out for actual safety concerns. That being said, I wouldn’t bring up religion during an interview regardless.

      It’s difficult not to have bias against a group that has actively worked against you while making you feel like less of a human being.

      1. overcaffeinatedandqueer*

        I agree, and I don’t think this kind of bias should be treated the same way as if you were a racist or something. I think there’s some difference between punching up or punching down, and defensiveness vs. “I am just not liking this person because they are a minority.” For an individual, the impact might be similar, but only one of the two things is historically done and supported by society. Only one is structural.

        1. fposte*

          It should absolutely be treated the same way in hiring–if somebody has stated a bias and and intention of discriminatory treatment of an employee, they cannot be anywhere near the process.

          1. Lissa*

            Yeah….”for an individual the impact might be similar” is kind of critical when it comes to hiring an individual person. I understand all about structural oppression, but I *still* think it’s just as bad to discriminate or be cruel to *an individual* for any reason. Especially when hiring someone, when the person doing the hiring does have the power!

        2. neverjaunty*

          You are a member of a mainstream Christian faith which does not require you to dress or act in ways that set you apart from what is considered ‘normal’ in this culture. You’re making snap judgment about people who belong to minority faiths whose religious expression differs from the mainstream (like the OP wearing Plain Dress.)


          1. overcaffeinatedandqueer*

            I genuinely didn’t think of it that way- that I might also be coming at this as a mainstream Christian, as well as an LGBT person. I apologize.

          2. AD*

            Hmm, not sure Alison will jump in here but I think we should avoid shouting/all caps/bickering with each other

        3. Newby*

          I don’t think that we want to start trying to justify discrimination of any kind. Discrimination is not ok ever. Some forms are more insidious and structural, but all discrimination is bad and has no place in hiring decisions.

        4. Emilia Bedelia*

          The whole point of anti-discrimination laws is that they protect individuals. That’s why we have “protected classes” and not just laws that protect women, minority races, gay people, etc. It is not fair at all to the candidates to enter the hiring process with an agenda. Having a bias based on your own experiences is one thing, but you cannot rationalize that your bias is somehow more acceptable to include in the hiring process than someone else’s.

        5. TL -*

          While it’s fair to avoid an institution because of their known views (although the Catholic Church is under new leadership now, and it’s hugely unfair to paint Francis with the same brush as Benedict or John Paul) and practices, it’s not okay to avoid people because of their affiliations. The exception would be if the primary purpose of the organization was to do whatever view/action you find morally repugnant.

          To be really frank, your attitude towards people of certain religions is very similar to the justification I hear for anti-Islamic bigotry. The reasoning reads like: Enough of them are bad and the chance of them hurting me is high enough that I should just avoid all of them always.
          There is a difference between punching up and punching down but – I think anytime you’re saying an entre group of people doesn’t deserve a chance for their religion, you’re crossing the line, regardless of the status of your own privilege/oppression.

    11. Trout 'Waver*

      My childhood church had a huge split between the pastor and the congregation over pro-LGBT policies. The congregation supported being pro-LGBT and they won. The pastor was won over and now ministers equally (no conversion therapy or any of that garbage) to openly gay members. Please don’t lump us religious folk all in together.

    12. Lora*

      Old Order Amish and Old Order Mennonite don’t evangelize. At all. In any way whatsoever. They are very clear on the point that “we do this, other people go their own way”. Most of them don’t vote at all, as pacifism is a guiding principle in their religion, and voting is about funding wars and who is going to war with whom and so forth.

      Now, they are very not-nice to anyone LGBT within the community – they will boot you right out of your house and you lose your family. But outside of the community they don’t actually care a whole lot what the rest of the world does. We could be having mad orgies and duck clubs 24/7 and they would shrug and say, “eh, English.”

    13. Religious Nutter*

      LW here,

      overcaffeinatedandqueer is getting a lot of pushback for this comment, but I believe they have a valid point. I know how damaging religious faith can be when mixed into the political arena. I WISH I could say that my faith is 100% pro-LGBT, but there are significant branches that still haven’t come around. I’m a member of an affirming branch, one that’s actively campaigned for equality, but that doesn’t forgive the rest of my faith (or faiths in general) for their bad behavior.

      As other commenters have mentioned, asking these questions does cross a line, and an argument can be made that you can disagree about these things and still work together. Still, I would like to advocate for a little empathy here. Having your existence invalidated by conservative faiths is a terrible experience that I wouldn’t wish on anyone. I believe they’re entitled to be cautious about this kind of thing. Not to put too fine a point on it, but no one wants to hire a jerk.

        1. overcaffeinatedandqueer*

          Agreed. I certainly didn’t mean to offend Religious Nutter, just to point out that I struggle with overcoming this bias.

          I try to have empathy for people, such as my inlaws (initially, at least), who want to become more openminded while staying religious, and for other allies. I recognize that the tension between their beliefs and the reality of the people they love is an issue, and I would hope that people can have empathy for a similar problem for me- tension between needing to protect myself but not wanting to be biased.

          1. Religious Nutter*

            No offense taken. I understand where you’re coming from. That said, the counterpoints offered in this thread are valid and deserve consideration. Some are a bit standoffish, but they’re pointing out a serious potential problem.

      1. fposte*

        That’s a thoughtful and benevolent comment, RN. I don’t mean to invalidate anybody’s lived experience, that’s for sure; I just think it’s important to preserve the distinction between “I have strong and negative feelings about a church that invalidates my existence” and “I have strong negative feelings about candidates with certain religious affiliations and would treat them differently as candidates and employees.”

      2. Lora*

        ^that right there is a fine example of one of the nicest things about Old Order Mennonite religion^. The ability to be compassionate and generous to people no matter what the circumstances.

        My brother can do it, I can’t. It’s impressive, every time you see it.

      3. Observer*

        Of course no one wants to hire a jerk. But, that designation crosses lines.

        As for empathy, sure. Keep in mind that an Orthodox Jew, *my* existence is still invalidated by a good chunk of the mainstream faith of this country. So, I totally get it. It’s worth noting, though, that I haven’t experienced more antisemitism from religious Moslems or Christians than from people purporting to be secular. Neither has my treatment as a woman been worse at the hands of religious people than secular. And, that’s where my pushback is.

        If you see any indication in behavior that someone thinks of **insert group** as lesser, etc. you absolutely have a right to be wary. But religion is not, by itself, a good indicator at all. (If you don’t believe me look at the diversity stats in much of the tech industry, the total tone deafness of even people who don’t seem to be bigoted, and and stories like the Uber mess.)

        1. Religious Nutter*

          This is a completely valid point, and one brought up several times in this thread. You can find extremely prejudicial people in almost any walk of life. It’s better to build your hiring practices around screening for sexism and racism. Religion isn’t a reliable indicator for either of those traits.

  32. Morning Glory*

    OP #5: could you perhaps ask how many rounds 0f interviews there will be? If there will be multiple rounds you could ask they would be willing to do the first round via video chat, and then travel to meet them in person if there’s continued interest.

    I work at a nonprofit and we are really selective about who we pay expenses to travel for an interview, but we are more flexible when it comes to requests like this for the first stages of the interview process.

  33. OP #1*

    OP #1 here.

    Fergus and Niles are friends outside work. They sit right next to each other. It was some kind of “inside joke” apparently. Niles is very lucky he was not more seriously injured. He took a few days off after this incident since he needed stitches.

    Another kicker to this here were quite a few people up for the promotion to that team a few months ago, and Fergus got that position. One of the people up for that position was told they “lacked the professionalism” for the team. With this happening, rather publically, it was a bit of a hit to their moral.

    1. Helen*

      If I was that person is would be job hunting right now. This might be affecting the morale of others also.

      You are right about Niles. Someone mentioned above that he would have likely died if his femoral artery had been hit. I can’t believe an adult would think something like this funny or acceptable anywhere, much less in the workplace.

    2. Morning Glory*

      I can see this affecting morale in terms of working in the company, but they must also be feeling pretty vindicated :) “Look who’s unprofessional now, suckers.”

      1. Locket*

        I’d also be worried about racism and sexism unless all the people passed over were white men.

        If you view too young white dude to pull pranks as professional but not someone who happens to be female or minority, you may have a problem with your organization.

        1. Roscoe*

          Oh come on. Does every question on here have to revert to some kind of racist/sexist thing? I’m black, so its not like I don’t understand this stuff. But nowhere in here was race even mentioned, but now it might be a thing? This is where people just get fed up with everything falling back into some kind of racial issue.

    3. Locket*

      Was that person a white male? If not, the company might have some issues.

      If it were me (female WOC), I’d be talking to an attorney stat.

    4. Locket*

      Are Fergus and Niles white, educated, and middle class?

      Are the other people who were passed over?

      This makes me wonder if your company really is being objective about these two Goofuses or if they are getting a pass bc if their demographics.

      1. the other Emily*

        Seriously? You posted along these lines three times in five minutes, when OP hasn’t mentioned the race, education or status of Niles, Fergus or anything one in the office. What does that have to do with anything? I agree Fergus made a stupid and immature decision but there is nothing to indicate that any of what you posted has anything to do with it.

        1. Locket*

          That’s why I’m asking. I don’t know if it’s an issue or not. I only know that if it’s the case that the two young men are white and a lot of the candidates were right, there could be an issue.

          In no way did I say this was the case only that it could be. Reading comprehension is important for you jump to outrage.

          The word IF is important.

          FWIW, I accidentally duplicate posted because it look like it didn’t go through.

          Why are YOU so upset? OP is free to clarify and tell me that this isn’t the case.

          Part of the point of this site and comment is for people to bring up potential issues. I don’t understand why you’re so upset that I’m bringing up something that may be a potential issue but may also not be.

          If you have never been in a situation where immature young men got promoted over women or people of color who were told they were “unprofessional” then you should feel really lucky because it happens all the time in the US

      2. AD*

        After last week’s “racism” post and its reactions, and the thread above about Catholics and religious biases, maybe we should take a moratorium at AAM on making accusations of any kind that involve race or discrimination.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          In this case, there’s no supporting evidence for it in the letter, so I’m going to ask that we leave it here and move on, not because it’s not possible but because it’s pure speculation with no facts to go on with high potential for derailment. Thanks.

    5. Observer*

      OMG. Yes, that context matters – a LOT.

      I still wouldn’t fire, but it really bumps this up to a REALLY big issue. There is no way that this behavior could be considered consistent with professionalism, yet you (your company) promoted him into a position that officially requires professionalism. It may not be practical to bust him back down, but I would be watching this guy like a hawk, and keeping him on a short leash.

      And, Locket does have a point – everyone needs to rethink how “professionalism” is being defined. Either professionalism is non-existent in your organization (if someone who thinks this is a good idea is *actually* more professional than someone else up for promotion) or someone is using some really poor ways of gauging the matter.

    6. Detective Amy Santiago*

      I think a demotion would be reasonable at this point. Obviously Fergus lacks good judgment and professionalism.

      1. Tina*

        Yes, a demotion sounds 100% reasonable to me too, given the context. IMO, he is extremely lucky he isn’t being outright fired.

  34. Grey*

    Niles stated… he was not angry about what had occurred.

    If getting stabbed in the ass doesn’t make you angry, then I wonder what prank Niles had already pulled on Fergus.

    1. OP #1*

      A thought I had was that Niles is such a nice guy, I don’t know if he would have felt comfortable to say if he was angry. It was probably a rather embarrassing thing to walk through the room with that type of injury, I could see him just saying, oh, it is ok, no matter how he really felt.

      1. Locket*

        Or he doesn’t want to admit he’s pissed bc that’s unmanly or means he “lost”.

          1. Locket*

            This is why we really shouldn’t use the reaction if the victim as the metric here.

            I’ve known male rape victims he didn’t want admit something wrong was done to them because it made them feel less masculine. American culture is very unkind to me and they perceive as being victims.

        1. RVA Cat*

          Considering the location of his injury, this cruel “prank” could be considered a sexual assault.

          1. fposte*

            That’s pretty unlikely–it doesn’t become sexual just because it hits somebody below the waist.

  35. SKA*

    #5 – When I was in my last semester of college, I started applying to jobs for after graduation. When I sent an application to a company that was 3 hours away from my hometown (and even further from where I was going to college), I included my skill set (which didn’t match the job posting 100% but it was close), hometown address, and date that I’d be available to work.

    I was excited that I nearly immediately got a response asking when I could come in for an interview. I set it up for a couple weeks after that point, when I’d be back in my hometown on break (and therefore a little closer to the job). That week, there was a huge blizzard. So I ended up driving out the day before and spending the night at a hotel (if I had driven out that morning, it would’ve still been dark for most of my drive and a fair bit more hazardous).

    When I showed up for the interview, they asked how the drive was. I mentioned I’d driven in the night before to avoid the worst of it and referenced the town I lived in. They were visibly surprised and said something along the lines of, “Wow! You drove that far for this interview?” It was quickly apparent that in addition to not noting my address, they also didn’t note ANYTHING about my application. Because the gap in my skill set and the job posting turned out to be a “must-have” and they needed someone to start well before my graduation date (which I mentioned in my cover letter). I had spent money for gas, a hotel, and a couple meals out (on a college student budget) all for an interview that basically resulted in the company saying “Woops! Didn’t read your application!”

    It’s been almost 10 years, and that still annoys me how unprofessional they were every time I think about it. But in the end, a bullet was dodged. I don’t think the company stayed in business long, and I found a much better entry-level, post-college job.

  36. Roscoe*

    For #1 I think firing someone for this would be like firing someone for harassment on their best friend that occured in the office. I’ll admit, I have some people who Im friends with outside of the office, and I probably say things to them in the office that I wouldn’t say to a random co-worker, because they are kind of mean, even though they are done just as friends giving each other crap type of thing. I’d be totally ok with my boss coming up to me and saying “I know you guys are friends, but we can’t have you talking like this in the office, because then people think its ok”. It would be very different to write me up or fire me for harassment. Yes, the act is the same, but again, I think part of it has to do with how the “victim” feels

  37. Susie*

    If this happened in my workplace and Fergus was not dealt with and it was like nothing happened, I would find a new job. I would wonder if the perpetrator would be disciplined if they injured me or if they would get off scott-free or with minimal consequences. I would question the judgement of both Fergus and management also.

    People who weren’t injured might still feel uneasy or unsafe. That should be taken into account. This wasn’t an accident, Fergus did this on purpose, even if he didn’t mean to hurt Niles.

    1. Roscoe*

      So this is an honest question, not to rile you up. But do you not see a difference between how people who have a close relationship outside of work act with each other and how people who are just co-workers would interact? I mean if everyone knows they are friends and have a different relationship, does that matter? If 2 office mates were dating, and one went to the other and whispered something in their ear or tickled them, would you be worried that they would do the same to you, even though the relationship is different? Because to me that makes a big difference. Just because Fergus did it on purpose to his friend, doesn’t mean he would do that to someone else.

      1. PollyQ*

        But “friends” is a much more nebulous category than “romantic partner.” What’s to stop Fergus from thinking that we’re now good enough friends that I’m now his pranking buddy?

        I would hope that after this experience, OP’s employer has strongly cracked down on pranking in general, but I still think firing, or at least demoting, Fergus would be a good way to convey their seriousness.

        1. Roscoe*

          That’s fair. But its also a bit disingenuous to pretend that you can’t tell when people are friends outside of work. Even the OP can recognize that they are good friends. To me, that does make a big difference. So yes, they may do/say things to each other that they wouldn’t say to Jane in accounting.

        2. Not So NewReader*

          I think a lot of these factors such as they are friends or Niles was not upset really have no bearing on the decision about management response.

          Part of a manager’s job is to insure safety in the workplace. OP has mentioned the added wrinkle that Fergus was promoted because of his professionalism. I am not in the situation so I cannot tell you for sure if I favor firing, but I am leaning that way. However if Fergus did not get fired, we would be having a Very Serious sit down conversation and he would be warned that any more pranking would lead to dismissal.
          Because the incident lead to a comp case, I would expect other departments to become involved. It could very well end up that the boss may not have much input as to what happens next. The boss may be informed that he MUST fire Fergus. Some companies have strong and immediate responses to comp cases.

  38. MoinMoin*

    These are slightly off topic, so please feel free to ignore if they’re derailing.
    #1 I’m a little surprised that Niles would pay for the medical bill and thus Fergus should offer to pay. I guess I just thought it would need to be worker’s comp since it was on company property. I don’t have strong stance on it one way or the other, just surprised.
    #4 I want to know more about these obligatory Amish episodes in everyone’s favorite television series? Are these like reality shows? I guess I could see The Bachelor and Real Housewives doing episodes where they go to an Amish community and learn how to raise a barn or something, but I don’t think this is a trope in scripted TV, is it? I guess the Hound joined a Westeros version of an Amish community, but it ended in a Westeros kind of way.

    1. Morning Glory*

      I think a lot of cop and crime shows do an episode where a witness or a victim or both is Amish/Quaker/Other.
      And Orange is the New Black has a former Amish felon.

      1. overcaffeinatedandqueer*

        Bones did one too! An Amish piano prodigy was murdered, because he wanted to leave the community to study music.

      2. Morning Glory*

        I just remembered one of my favorites. Arthur [that’s right, the cartoon aardvark) did an episode on what being Amish means, and what misconceptions are about it.

    2. ThatGirl*

      There was a Grey’s Anatomy episode where two young Amish women showed up at the hospital.

    3. Emi.*

      There’s also an episode of the X-Files where they investigate a series of sex-murders by a mysterious plainly-dressed religious community called the Kindred. Wikipedia explains it thusly: “The episode was inspired by producer Glen Morgan’s desire for ‘an episode with more of a sexy edge’; the writers found it difficult to write a story that showed sex as scary and introduced an Amish-like community as well.” The X-Files is generally bad at religion, but this one was particularly cringey.

    4. Religious Nutter*

      LW here,

      The string of other replies here contains a bunch of good examples. It seems like any long-running drama (especially crime shows) has to have at least one episode about the Amish.

      1. MegaMoose, Esq*

        Not to mention SPACE AMISH! See: Firefly, Star Treks TOS, TNG and DS9, and Farscape.

        1. The Not Mad But Occasionally Irritable Scientist*

          John Scalzi’s Old Man’s War series had space Amish too.

  39. RVA Cat*

    #1 – Fergus should have to pay for the chair and for Niles’ medical expenses.

    You need to shut down the pranks. I’d also shut down anyone teasing Niles about his injury.

    1. overcaffeinatedandqueer*

      Definitely. I might laugh for about half a second, because I have an immature sense of humor. But as soon as I realized the person was really hurt rather than just surprised or annoyed, I would treat it as the serious issue it is, and not tease him.

  40. SummerCamper*

    LW#4, I sympathize with your concerns! I grew up in a conservative church (and I’m still religious, although not as conservative as my parents). While my church’s teachings didn’t specify “plain dress,” I DID stand out in my first summer job as the only employee in the sweltering greenhouse with covered knees, shoulders, and upper chest. My advice to you is as follows:

    1. If possible, wear your most distinctively religious hat option. If you were a woman who wears a prayer covering, I’d advise a charity veil, prayer cap, or snood instead of a fashionable hat, bandanna, or wide headband. I know that you are man so these specific examples don’t apply – but if your religious convictions include options about hat style, I’d choose the weird one. The reason is because I recommend appearing overtly religious. More on this below.

    2. If you live in a cold climate, a good time to mention the hat might be when your interviewer offers to take your coat. Interviewer: “May I take your coat?” You: “Yes, thank you, and I’ll keep my hat – it’s for religious reasons.”

    3. Try not to worry too much about appearing overly religious – for two reasons:

    a) It’s better to appear religious than rude. If keeping your hat on indoors is normally a breech of professional decorum, than I’d rather people know the reason why! So try to say something about it, if it’s not something that reads as obviously religious.

    b) In my experience, I’ve had more people make unjustified-but-positive assumptions about me based on my faith than unjustified-but-negative assumptions. I recognize that I say this from a position of incredible privilege – Christianity is the dominant religion in the USA, and while I’ve dealt with some negative associations / assumptions, it’s so minuscule compared with the vitriol often aimed at followers of other faiths. As a conservative Christian woman, people are most likely to assume that I’m hardworking, honest, quiet, enjoy quilting, and might make them an apple pie. These assumptions are generally on the “good” side of things, especially the first two (the last ones make rising to leadership roles difficult, but I tend to overcome them once people get to know me). All this to say – an inner confidence goes a long way towards helping people view you positively, and it might help to remember that some people (even non-religious ones) might view your faith as a good thing.

    1. Princess Carolyn*

      Great points. If you’re not willing to change your religious custom (which is reasonable), it doesn’t make sense to worry about people’s perception of your religion. It’s out of your control. What is within your control, as you mention, is whether you appear rude.

    2. Religious Nutter*

      LW here,

      That’s the challenge. Mentioning my religion is fine. If someone a problem with hiring me because of my religion, I probably wouldn’t like the job anyways. The tricky part is mentioning it in a graceful way that doesn’t grind the conversation/introduction to a halt.

      Like you, I say all of this from a position of privilege. I get a lot more positive stereotypes than negative ones.

      1. Not So NewReader*

        Maybe you could develop some redirects for these situations.

        “I’d love to answer all your questions about my faith, but I am sure you (many of you) have time constraints, so maybe it would be best if we chat about your job opening.”

        Redirect the conversation by showing how it is in their best interest to stay on course.

        Recently I saw someone handle a group interview. The group for some reason drifted in conversation with each other and lost sight of the candidate. The candidate got everyone’s attention by saying something to the effect of, “Would you folks like to hear about my experience with X [very desirable experience needed for the current opening].”
        Here the redirect was something of good value to the interviewing group. The candidate instantly got the group’s attention.

  41. The Bimmer Guy*

    #1. I, also a male in his early twenties, just can’t believe anyone would be so stupid as to leave a pair of scissors in a chair. That’s a prank in which you could clearly anticipate an injurious outcome. And really, pranks have no place in the workplace anyway. I guess I wouldn’t fire Fergus either, but I would seriously question his judgment, and he would have to work hard to improve his reputation in my eyes.

  42. Mena*

    2. The older I get, the more I’m convinced that “Why do you ask?” is the most useful response to inappropriate questions. It turns the question back to the wrongful party.
    Repeat as necessary.

  43. Princess Carolyn*

    Am I the only one who’s genuinely surprised that sitting on a pair of scissors resulted in needing stitches? It makes sense to shut down the pranks, but everyone here is assuming Fergus should have known the risks and I feel weird about that.

    1. fposte*

      I get what you’re saying–I’m surprised it managed to hurt Niles that badly too. But there’s always going to be a potential for injury when you’re leaving sharp things around for people to encounter unexpectedly, and I think Fergus did ignore that. It’s the difference between “This could hurt him but probably won’t, so I’m going to go ahead” and “It’s unlikely that anybody will be wounded, but this isn’t necessary [or frankly all that funny] so because of the chance it could hurt somebody I’m going to stop.”

      1. OP #1*

        They were apparently wedged back into the seat, so only the shiny pointy end would have been visible.

        1. fposte*

          Whoa. Yeah, that would enhance the damage potential, all right–if they’re backstopped, they won’t move away when somebody encounters them.

        2. SarahTheEntwife*

          Oh wow, yeah that changes it for me from “weird and not really funny thing that still wasn’t likely to go this terribly wrong” to “seriously what were you thinking??”.

          1. The Not Mad But Occasionally Irritable Scientist*

            It’s all fun and games until someone gets shanked in the butt.

        3. neverjaunty*


          Okay, I was wrong. Fergus needs to have a butt injury too, from being bounced out of his job so fast that, cartoon-like, he boings along the sidewalk as he is ejected.

          1. The Not Mad But Occasionally Irritable Scientist*

            With sound effects. We must have sound effects.

            1. neverjaunty*

              Indeed, but now I’m torn. A slow, graceful arc with a draw out boioioioioing on each bounce, or a rapid series of bounces like skipping a rock? I’m leaning toward the latter.

              1. tigerStripes*

                Do the slow graceful arc first, then grab him, drag him back inside, and throw him out with a rapid series of bounces.

                At least he should be demoted.

        4. Detective Amy Santiago*

          holy cow… I was mentally picturing them lying on his chair and was wondering how he managed to need stitches. this changes things a lot, IMO.

        5. Observer*

          Whoa, that’s another whole level. Beyond making much harder to see that really does up the damage potential. It’s wedged so it won’t move – and the point it probably more upward than flat.

          It’s also worse, because it took more thought and effort to do this – enough time to give someone a chance to think twice and say “Eh, maybe not such a good idea.”

            1. Ask a Manager* Post author

              It does. I’d still want to talk with Fergus and get a sense of what’s up with him — is is horrified, is he cavalier, does he think it was just bad luck that Niles got injured or is he taking responsibility, etc. — but it certainly makes it a lot more serious.

            2. Morning Glory*

              I’m curious to know this as well.

              Flat in the chair is a sign of bad(ish) judgment. Sticking out blade up like this seems like a sign of much, much worse judgment.

      2. Princess Carolyn*

        I can agree with that. It’s bad judgment either way, but it doesn’t strike me as reckless. It seems plausible that someone could leave scissors on a chair even without the intent to prank someone – just as a “hey, I’m returning your scissors” thing. Which would be a bad call, but I can’t promise I’ve never absentmindedly done that in the past.

    2. neverjaunty*

      Are you genuinely surprised that sitting on a pair of scissors could result in being poked in the butt by something sharp?

      1. Temperance*

        I have a feeling Princess Carolyn interpreted the act the same way I did – that Fergus laid out a pair of scissors on the chair, which is a strange act but not necessarily harmful. It appears that he actually somehow embedded them, which is far more damaging and not really a “prank” at all.

          1. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)*

            I don’t know. Even with the setup that the OP described, I would never have predicted an actual injury. Scissor tips aren’t (usually) very sharp. I can imagine a bruise, a poke, someone sitting down and yelping and jumping back up, but not an actual injury.

            (I loathe pranks in any case, so I’m not advocating for them or supporting Fergus’s choice. But I’m having a hard time getting to “sinister.”)

            1. fposte*

              Our scissor tips are sharp, and they’re just ordinary scissors. Were you thinking of the scissors as being closed? It seems pretty clear to me that they were jammed in open for maximum pointiness.

            2. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

              Scissor tips may not be that sharp, but sharpness isn’t actually all that necessary. People sit down with a pretty significant amount of force.

            3. Mirax*

              Sitting down, especially quickly, would absolutely produce enough force to incur a puncture wound. It doesn’t actually take much pressure to get one.

        1. animaniactoo*

          I wouldn’t have laid scissors on a chair, but I am probably overly cautious from a lifetime of dealing with X-Acto knives and a sliced thumbnail when I was much much younger.

          But if only the pointy end was visible, I agree with you that this moves into a much more serious incident than “thoughtless prank, lack of critical thinking skills”.

          1. Elizabeth West*

            I cut my finger with a pair of scissors once–as in I was cutting paper and sliced right through it and into the finger holding the paper. I know the power of scissors.

        2. Myrin*

          Yeah, I interpreted it the same way but only because I couldn’t really imagine how someone would make the scissors stand up on a chair (which is the only way it makes sense for them to hurt Niles so badly). I should have refreshed before posting my comment below, where I was wondering about exactly this. But man, I agree that this kind of goes beyond “prank” territory to me.

    3. SarahTheEntwife*

      For me that seems like the kind of incident where 90% of the time it will be no more than mildly uncomfortable, but the remaining 10% of the time cover all sorts of horrible things. So I wouldn’t *expect* sitting on scissors to result in needing stitches, but I’m also not surprised by it.

      My perception may be affected by the number of people I know who’ve had to get stitches due to knitting-related injuries.

    4. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

      I imagine it depends a lot on how the scissors were positioned. If they were lying flat and closed, it seems highly unlikely that Niles would have needed medical treatment… I would imagine that most of us are supposing they were propped up in some way so as to present points upward.

    5. Myrin*

      I’m more having trouble imagining how it happened – even if the scissors are “open” (is that what you’d call it?), if they’re just lying flat on a chair, they shouldn’t do any harm at all if the scenario unfolds like I picture it, just be as uncomfortable as anything uneven you sit on. Maybe Niles sat down unusually fast/hard or Fergus placed them on some kind of uneven cushion or something? This has absolutely no relevance to the question but I’d really love to have video footage of this event just to wrap my head around it.

      That being said, I agree with fposte. Anything that is sharp or pointed can hurt someone and people should be cognisant of that if it’s not something they absolutely have to do.

  44. textbookaquarian*

    Regarding letter #2, I have a question. Would the manager asking about personal medical information in this manner be a potential HIPAA violation? My company says it is and strongly cautions us against it. However when I’ve brought that up before, others told me that is wrong. Mind you that discussion took place at a non-work related FB group with no way of verifying how knowledgeable the other participants were. So I’m curious to hear from an actual work-related group. :)

    1. fposte*

      HIPAA only covers certain entities involved in health care, so it’s highly unlikely that this would be a breach. It’s possible that your company has an involvement that makes it HIPAA-covered–it’s also possible that your company is incorrect and just wants people to stay out of other people’s business.

    2. animaniactoo*

      Your company is wrongly assigning the blame for the reason not to ask. HIPAA covers medical professionals and those with access to medical information for the purpose of their job (think insurance company).

      Where this question would fall under HIPAA would be in very narrow circumstances, such as the boss is in charge of a self-administered company health insurance plan, and approved payments for OB/GYN, and prescriptions for hormone treatments related to conception attempts and that is the source of their knowledge that OP is actively trying.

      Here, this boss is shooting in the dark from various snippets of random office chatter – some of it from OP’s own mouth, and it’s not appropriate, but it’s not a legal violation.

    3. Rusty Shackelford*

      Most likely not, but certain people in my company have made the same assumption.

    4. Jessie the First (or second)*

      HIPAA doesn’t cover all medical information – it depends on who is giving the information, why, whether they have permission to give it, etc. And in generally, random asking about medical-related stuff isn’t a HIPAA violation.

      Obviously, if the manager went up to HR and asked the person who handles insurance claims if OP is pregnant, and then the HR person looked through her files, saw a claim for a visit with the OB/GYN and told the manager “yup, look, she visited the OB last month” then we’d be in horrible HIPAA violation territory.

      But here the manager is being nosy and inappropriate and trying to engage in office gossip. Wrong, but nothing to do with HIPAA.

    5. textbookaquarian*

      Thank you everyone for the clarification. My company is not in the medical field. Yet I have to take a compliance course because I work in mail services and the example we’re given in the training materials is two coworkers talking about another’s recent surgery. So it sounds like HR is merely trying to stop gossip or whomever wrote that part was confused/misinformed.

      1. AnonAcademic*

        Yes, there are a limited number of non-healthcare situations where HIPAA applies “officially” (such as federally funded research on people) but companies can voluntarily adhere to the guidelines as well if they want since they tend to dovetail with other privacy best practices.

  45. animaniactoo*

    OP#2 – If you can’t manage it in the moment, even with the script prepped ahead of time, it’s okay to do it later.

    “Boss, I’m sorry, I was caught off-guard again and I didn’t say what I really wanted to say when you asked me whether I was pregnant. I need you to stop asking please – it feels really intrusive and I always feel awkward answering, and I’m not sure you realize how often you ask me but it feels like a lot to me. I promise that I will share any pregnancy news with plenty of time to plan around it, and you don’t have to ask me to find out whether or not I am.”

  46. Christian Troy*

    # 5 – I did a very similar thing in my job search. There were little to no jobs in my field in my city so the bulk of where I applied was out of state, or at the least, a few hours away. IME, I find most places do some kind of phone screening and or are willing to do Skype to make sure i’m a good candidate. You can preface your commitment with that too, like “I don’t mind flying out but I’d prefer to only do so if I’m a serious candidate.” I will say, I have ended up spending money on an interview where I wasn’t really what they were looking for which was pretty devastating. But all you can is your own due diligence with asking questions and collecting information on your end.

  47. The Not Mad But Occasionally Irritable Scientist*

    RE: OP #1…..I’ve quashed a couple of workplace prank wars, for this very reason. It’s all fun and games until someone gets shanked, and frankly people who are into pranks rarely have the sense of proportion to keep it from escalating to complete inanity.

  48. The Not Mad But Occasionally Irritable Scientist*

    A friend of mine who’s Sikh has turned the “how to make a religious head covering okay professionally” problem into a bit of an art form. He’s a dapper dresser in a workplace where suits are the norm, so he coordinates the head wrap with his suits and ties and pocket squares and so on. Picture a suit a notch brighter than navy with a magenta head wrap and magenta flecks in the tie.

      1. The Not Mad But Occasionally Irritable Scientist*

        I envy him, actually, because South Asian folks can pull off lime green and tangerine and magenta, and pasty-white me so absolutely cannot.

      1. The Not Mad But Occasionally Irritable Scientist*

        Yeah, I say this as a hetero, cis male: dude is sexaaaaaaay. Plus he’s got the best beard I’ve ever seen, if you’re into that.

  49. Anon 2*

    #5 — I always push for Skype interviews first. I emphasize that I think traveling to interview is in person but given the time and expense involved (well if I’m on the one footing the bill, which is probably half the time), that I am hoping that the employer will wait until the last round of interviews. Any employer that has been serious about my candidacy has been willing to be flexible and they understand the need to limit the amount of travel. I haven’t always gotten the job, but I always felt that I had a fair shot at the job.

  50. Allison*

    #3 When I started working in recruiting it was framed as a requirement that we connect with lots of people we don’t know in order to expand our networks. Every day we had to hit up LinkedIn and send out connection requests. Thankfully, it hasn’t been instructed in more recent jobs, but I still do it if someone looks like the type of person we may want to hire in the near future. That said, I don’t accept all the requests anymore, like agency recruiters or recent grads in fields I don’t recruit for (like electrical engineering), in areas I don’t recruit in – basically, if neither of us is going to benefit from the connection, there’s no point to accepting.

    Also, now that LinkedIn encourages my connections I don’t know to send generic “congrats on your work anniversary, hope all is well” messages, I’m even less likely to want to be connected to a whole bunch of strangers. I know most of the time they mean well . . . but I don’t want those messages, and I can’t really explain why. That probably makes me a jerk.

    #5, AAM makes a good point with “People will usually take their cues from you, and if you’re low-key and matter-of-fact about it, it shouldn’t be a big deal.” Your demeanor will play a big part in this – if where you fall on the chill-formal spectrum is relatively in line with the rest of the office, and you just happen to come from an unusual background, most people won’t care. If you’re significantly more formal in your mannerisms and seem like a very rigid person, that might change how you’re perceived. If the interviewer sees you side-eyeing the guy with the man bun or the woman whose dress falls just short of her knees, that might signal an issue.

    1. Red 5*

      OP #3 here, and those congrats on your work anniversary emails annoy me so much too, as do the emails from LinkedIn telling me to congratulate others. For one, my “work anniversary” for my main position is an arbitrary date I put for when I guessed I started freelancing, so it always takes me by surprise when I start getting the messages. I know the year, but I only have anything else because LinkedIn made me put that. And for my second position, I don’t see why being at a company for three years is all that much to send a generic message about. It feels like any day it’ll be celebrated once a month instead or something.

      1. Allison*

        Well, I haven’t been at a job for 3 years yet, so when that happens, anyone who knows me is welcome to make a big fuss if they want. Even one year is kinda big because my first two jobs out of college lasted under a year, nowadays 5 seems to be a big deal for most people. I still just . . . don’t want that kind of attention.

  51. PTownes*

    I would absolutely fire Fergus for the scissor prank, and I think it’s kind of amazing that the advice was different because this situation seems rather terrifying from an HR standpoint. The intent doesn’t matter here, nor should Fergus be expected or encouraged to pay for medical bills. This is a workplace injury that arose out of horseplay, so I would imagine this would be covered by workers compensation. What if there had been damage to reproductive organs? What if the prankee decides he doesn’t think it’s funny anymore? What if the idiocy escalates because someone from another department saw that Fergus just got a hand slap and decides they want to try the airbag prank from Neighbors and someone gets seriously injured? No thanks.

  52. Retail HR Guy*

    Re: Allison’s response to #1, Fergus shouldn’t have any medical bills because it would be covered under workers’ comp. The company subrogating a workers’ comp claim to Niles, one of their own employees, would not fly in most states (maybe all states, because OSHA might consider charging employees for an accidental injury to be a form of illegally discouraging accident reporting).

    1. Anonish*

      I’m glad someone brought up OSHA and workers comp. Regardless of intent, it’s an OSHA recordable injury.

  53. AthenaC*

    #2 – I agree with AAM and her highness the Princess above – start by talking directly to your manager. I’m speculating, but it sounds like she wants to be supportive, but is completely bungling it and doing so in a way that comes across as very aggressive. If that’s the case, a single direct conversation should 100% take care of this.

    Here’s hoping – and good luck!

  54. Jessica*

    To #5 – you might also check to see if your travel expenses can be tax deductions next year. It doesn’t fix the current problem, but it’s possibly a little silver lining?

Comments are closed.